Band of Brothers: Chapter Three- - Ambush...


You know the drill...


Chapter Three: Ambush

“ Last stop, momma’s boys: Scorpion Marine Training Camp. File out,” the thick-necked lance corporal barked as the bus rolled to a halt. Jeremy Overstreet groaned out loud. Looking out of the vehicle’s windows, he could only see desert. Vast, vast desert. What the hell had he gotten himself into? he wondered. Less than twenty-four hours after he had joined up with the Marines at the St. Louis recruiting station, they had stuck him on a bus and sent him all the way out to New Mexico. It was as if Jeremy was in a different world altogether now. The sun seemed twice as bright here as it had in Missouri, and Jeremy yelled out is dismay when an orange and black beaded lizard scurried across his feet.
A boisterous laugh greeted this as Jesus Velez stepped off the bus next to Jeremy.
“ It’s just a Gila monster, Germ, nothing to be scared of,” the wiry, dark-haired nineteen year old said. Jeremy flinched at the nickname. People had called him that all throughout high school, yet it still rankled him. “ What you should be scared of are the scorpions.”
Jeremy swallowed hard. “ Scorpions?” he croaked. Velez nodded. “ Oh, hell. And you actually grew up here?”
“ Well, Texas. But close enough, right? Come on, Germ.” Jesus pushed Jeremy toward the barbed wire entrance of Scorpion Marine Camp. Passing through that gnarled gate was like stepping into hell, Jeremy thought. It sure was hot enough to be hell. The men and women gathered in the camp’s parade ground. It was the shittiest parade ground Jeremy had ever seen in his life (not that he’d seen many). There wasn’t even any grass, but just baked, scorched earth.
“ Ten-hut!” a deep voice boomed. Although not one of the kids gathered in the middle of the New Mexican desert had ever been in the military before, they knew enough from the holos that that meant someone of authority was on his or her way. The twelve young men and women formed a shoulder-to-shoulder line as a squat, mean-looking man with three stripes on his shoulders stepped out of a nearby building.
“ Well,” he said, his voice low and menacing. “ It looks like we’re recruiting babies these days.” The assembly chuckled appreciatively. The sergeant whirled on them like a rabid dog. “ That was not funny!” he roared, causing Jeremy to jump. “ I am Sergeant Bragg! You will address me as ‘sir’; I will address you as ‘maggot’ until you earn my respect. Do you understand me?”
Responses of “Yep.” “Uh-uh.” “Yeah.” greeted Bragg.
The tough little man’s eyes bugged from his head as he roared, “ Are you maggots that dense? I told you to address me as ‘sir’, goddammit! Now drop and give me twenty!” By the time he was done, Jeremy’s arms were on fire. He hadn’t realized just how out of shape he really was. “ You are no longer human beings,” Bragg roared. “ You are apes. You will not be Terran until you kill your first Kilrathi.” The drill sergeant’s grin turned malicious. “ Or until a Kilrathi kills you. But until then, this is now your home. Don’t like it? Then call your mommy. But let me tell you one thing: I am now your mommy! Do you maggots understand me?”
“ Sir, yes, sir!” Jeremy knew enough from the holos to respond in that way.
A chuckle escaped from Bragg’s cadaverous lips.

Major Douglas Edison finished his letter home and capped the pen. It felt strange using a real ink pen after thirty-four years drafting letters on the computer. But Margaret seemed to like those little personal touches, and Doug actually found he preferred handwriting letters opposed to using the computer. It was not as cold, as impersonal, it seemed. He neatly folded the letter and shoved it into an envelope to be taken away later. Mostly, the couriers did not take personal letters, but there were exceptions.
His intercom beeped. Reaching forward, Doug pressed the button and said,
“ Yes?”
“ Major Edison, your presence is required in the Colonel’s office,” the voice of Wilber Shelby said. “ He is conducting a meeting of the Wing’s senior staff, and he asked that you be there.”
Doug nodded. “ All right. Who else is going to be there, Captain?”
“ Majors Nomura and Heinrich, sir, as well as Lt. Col. Butler,” Shelby replied.
“ Tell Colonel Drake that I’m on my way down.” Edison tugged on his uniform jacket and left his cabin. A few minutes later, he arrived at the Wing Commander’s office, just after Tomo Nomura and Fred Heinrich, the other two squadron commanders on the Antietam.
Douglas came to attention and saluted Casper Drake. “ At ease, Major,” he said in that gentle voice of his. “ No need to go all formal on my account.” Edison took a seat next to Fred. “ Good, now that we’re all here we can get on with the briefing?”
“ Are we undertaking a special op of any sort, Colonel?” Doug asked.
Casper cracked a wry grin. “ You’ll see, Major Edison. You’ll see.” He looked over his shoulder. “ Ted?” Butler worked a nearby control and a star chart formed on the screen behind Drake’s head. “ Gentlemen, we have just received word from Admiral Halsey of the Fifth Fleet of a possible uprising on the Kilrathi world of Trk’Harna.”
“ Rebels with ties to the Ghorah Khar insurrection, perhaps?” Major Nomura suggested.
The Antietam’s Wing Commander jerked his head once in a nod. “ Absolutely, Major. Halsey himself has received communiqués from the rebels’ leader, a Korag nar Hhallas. From what he’s telling Confed, several months ago he and his associates were stockpiling weapons in the southern jungles of Trk’Harna IV, which happens to be the only habitable planet in the system. Apparently, the Kilrathi got wind of this and sent in armed troops in order to put a stop to any indiscretions. Korag somehow got off planet, but hundreds of rebels are now hiding from vicious Imperial control. Confed cannot allow these people to suffer.”
“ So we’re going in to liberate Trk’Harna IV then,” Doug observed.
“ Precisely. But, we’ll be getting assistance from Korag himself, as well as his fellow expatriates. They apparently have a ship operating from a rebel base on a large asteroid at the edge of the system. We’ll rendezvous with that ship, consolidate our powers, and oust the Kilrathi from Trk’Harna.” Drake leaned back in his seat, his arms crossed. “ Captain Ruth has deemed this operation especially critical. The Ghorah Khar rebels are one of Confed’s most invaluable weapons against the Empire.”
He turned back toward his second-in-command. “ Ted?” he said again.
Butler straightened in his chair, puffing his chest out to show the rows of medals arrayed there as if to prove that he was more important than he usually let on. Doug didn’t necessarily approve of such pomp and circumstance while on duty, but Butler was a colonel, and he was a measly major. “ Thank you, sir,” Lobo said. “ Gentlemen, I shall now go over mission specifics, which you will in turn relay to your respective squadrons.
“ With the presence of the Vedurag in the Heinlein System, as well as the separate Dralthi and Drakhri squadrons engaged by the Battling Bastards, we now know that there is indeed a substantial Kilrathi presence in this system. Nevertheless, the TCS Guadalcanal is moving in to continue our previous mission of cleaning house here in Heinlein. We, however, with a fighter escort, of course, shall quietly move through the system to the Lucas jump point. We shall then move on into the McCaffrey System, which is as of this moment under Confed control,” Butler said. “ Here in McCaffrey we will refuel and then move on to Shelton, Repleetah, and finally Trk’Harna. Sending out the appropriate signal, we shall rendezvous with the TCS Jak Bo’rah, Korag’s ship. By consolidating our powers, precisely as Colonel Drake said earlier, our hope is to move on to Trk’Harna IV, soften up the planetary defenses with our fighters, and land our Marines. Any questions.”
There were none, so Casper Drake said, “ Very well, gentlemen. Major Edison, please assign two pilots from your squadron to serve as an escort for the Antietam as she moves through the Heinlein System. I would recommend that Lieutenant Overstreet of yours.”
“ Any particular reason, sir?” Doug asked. Justin was a damned good officer, Edison knew that, but he did not know that Drake knew that as well.
“ Well, Captain Ruth has taken a serious shine to the lad, and he’s a damn good pilot. We need our best if we’re going to survive this goddamned war,” Drake returned, perhaps a tad fierily. “ That is all, gentlemen. Dismissed.” The Wing Commander made as if to go back to work, officially a sign to get the hell out of his office.
Douglas headed back toward the lift. He had to talk to Lieutenant Overstreet.

Trk’Harna System
Enigma Sector
Isaac Quadrant

“ Captain, we’re receiving the appropriate countersign from the Jak Bo’rah,” Lieutenant Garner announced from his place on the Antietam’s rather spacious bridge.
Donald Ruth came onto the bridge with his hair still wet. He had just gotten out of the shower when Lt. Commander Jerome had called down to him saying that they had reached the Trk’Harna System. The life of a Captain was not what it was during peacetime, that was sure. At sixty-four years of age, Donald had commanded a corvette before the war even started. Battling pirates and privateers on the outskirts of the Confederation was not as grueling as coming up against the almost superior might of the Kilrathi Empire. Thirty-five years ago he could actually take a shower and then deal with whoever was gunning for Confed. Now, something was gunning for Confed twenty-four, seven. Now… well, things had changed a great deal since antebellum.
“ Very well,” Ruth told Garner in a tired voice. When was the last time he had gotten any sleep, he wondered. It had been two days, at least. He would have to go down and see Dr. Kelso about getting something to ameliorate that. “ Mr. Fuller, I want a full fighter escort for Korag’s ship. Nothing is to get near her, do you read me?”
“ Aye, aye, Captain,” Jack Fuller, the Flight Deck Officer, said, relaying Ruth’s orders to Flight Boss Tesh. A moment later, Fuller announced, “ Four Ferrets from Major Heinrich’s squadron are on their way out, sir.”
Ruth settled down into his central chair, where a steaming mug of coffee had already been placed there by Yeoman Samantha Mulligan. “ Thanks, Sam,” he said, grinning up at the eighteen-year old girl. She sort of reminded him of his daughter, Nora, who was a researcher on Veratek. Sam grinned back and left the bridge, ready to be called upon again if Donald found a reason to do so. “ Nick, how’s that busted antimatter containment pod down in the engine room?” he asked,
Engineer Nick Goddard looked up from his console, his glasses thick and his hair unruly. Rumor had it that Nick once wanted to become a combat pilot, but his horrible vision invalidated him. Ruth could almost feel sorry for the man. “ Um, yes, sir. Chief Hornby locked that problem down while we were in the McCaffrey System, sir. Our engines are now operating at one-hundred percent efficiency, Captain.”
“ Good. I just wanted to—”
“ Shit! Oh, God! Captain, we have bogies! Tally-freaking-ho, sir!” radar operator Mollie Finster snapped, forgetting her place for but a moment. Ruth did not chide her for the profanity; there were other things to worry about.
Donald rose and worked his way through the bridge to Finster’s radar board. Sure enough, like Mollie had said, a swarm of red blips were making their way toward the Antietam’s position. He reached forward and called up the bogies’ ID signatures. He didn’t care if Finster was irked at the Captain usurping her duties. “ Damn. Looks like a flight of Grikath bombers, and a Sartha squadron, coming up from Trk’Harna IV. Goddammit to hell, we’ve been discovered. And it looks like they’re gunning for the Jak Bo’rah!” He whirled back toward Jack Fuller. “ Launch all fighters, Ensign, I want that deck cleared, you read me? We cannot let that ship go down.”
“ Captain, incoming communiqué from Korag,” Garner announced into the confusion that had suddenly enveloped the bridge.
“ Put it through, Lieutenant.”
“ Aye, aye, sir.”
A moment later, a nearby bridge monitor was aglow with the visage of Korag nar Hhallas, the brown-furred Trk’Harnan rebel leader. “ Greetings, Captain Ruth,” he purred in almost totally unaccented English. “ We also have detected the incoming Imperial ships and are launching our own fighters to assist the noble Terrans piloting yours.”
Ruth grinned at the formal way in which Korag always seemed to speak. “ Very well, Kal Shintahr. We sure as hell could use the assistance. I’d like you to move the Jak Bo’rah under the shadow of the Antietam’s guns. Our turret fire will cover you.”
“ Thank you, Captain. We shall comply.”
“ All fighters launched, sir,” Jack said. “ Ready to engage the enemy on your order.”
Without turning toward Ensign Fuller, Ruth barked, “ Tell them to kick those bastards back to Holy Mother Kilrah!”

Justin had just started to relax after yet another long escort duty when all of a sudden the scramble alarm went off. “ Oh, hell,” he groaned, downing his shot glass of milk and racing out of the rec room. The hellish glare of the general quarters alarm filled the corridor with a reddish glow. Bodies on top of bodies crushed down the hall, making the feeling of roasting in the pits of hell all the more complete.
“ What’s going on, sir?” Pete’s voice asked, seemingly from nowhere.
It took a moment for Justin to find his wingman before he replied, “ I don’t know, Decker. Looks like we’re under attack.”
“ Yeah, but from what Major Edison said earlier, the Antietam wouldn’t be detected by the Kilrathi from Trk’Harna IV until we got near enough to land Marines,” Pete persisted, his voice filled with worry. “ Seems like something’s gone wrong, sir.”
Justin sighed, recognizing the grim possibility. “ Yeah. Looks like it.” He said nothing more, however, and silently raced down to the ready room, where he shrugged on his flight gear and raced toward his Rapier. Rachel gave him a smart salute and helped him into his cockpit. “ Good luck, sir!” she yelled over the increasing roar of fighter engines. Justin gave a thumbs-up and closed the Rapier’s canopy. The tractor put him into position of the Antietam’s complex catapult system, used only during a scramble mission. “ Rapier 213, ready to launch,” he said into his helmet mike.
Flight Boss Xavier Tesh, towering over the flight deck in the Flight Control Center, said, “ Rapier 213, I acknowledge that you’re ready for launch. Stand by.” Before Justin, Major Edison’s Rapier snapped out into space faster than the eye could see. The roar of his engines was deafening, and Justin was glad he was snug in his cockpit.
“ Rapier 213, prepare for launch.” Justin returned the salute of CPO Szilard, and stuck up his thumb at Tesh. “ Good luck, Lieutenant Overstreet,” he said, and stabbed his finger down on the launch button.
“ Whoa!” Justin gasped as acceleration pressed him back into his cushioned seat. The bulkheads on either side of him became gray blurs as he was blasted out of the Antietam’s flight deck faster than he was able to gauge. Once he cleared the carrier, he took the control stick of the F-44 and pulled out of the way, so Pete didn’t ram into him and kill them both once the catapult expelled him from the ship. “ Echo Wing, form up,” Justin ordered as soon as all of the Battling Bastards had launched. Similar commands echoed across the pilots’ frequencies, as wing commanders took charge of their respective flights.
“ Major, what’s the story?” Justin asked when roll call was over.
Caesar’s face appeared upon Justin’s VDU. “ The Captain detected a wing of Grikaths and Sarthas heading this way up from Trk’Harna IV. It appears that their primary target is the TCS Jak Bo’rah, the flagship of Korag nar Hhallas, leader of the Trk’Harnan rebels. People, we must stop those bombers at all costs. Do you read me? Not one bomb must chip the paint on that vessel!”
Justin whistled low under his breath. Defense missions were the hardest, he felt, after escort duty. You had to destroy the enemy, sure, but also had to watch out that they didn’t destroy whatever it was that you were guarding. At times, Justin had felt himself get distracted by a bogey, only to have whatever it was Justin was supposed to be defending take significant damage.
“ The Kilrathi would be pleased to provide assistance!” a guttural voice exploded from the comm.
Justin stared in alarm as a flight of Hhriss heavy fighters detached from the angular Jak Bo’rah and formed up parallel to the Battling Bastards. So the rebels were pilots, too, and were going to give the Antietam’s people a hand, eh? Justin grinned. “ We’d be glad to have it, too…” He hoped the Kilrathi would supply his name at that point.
“ I am First Fang Tak’Kar nar Hhallas,” the alien said.
“ Your assistance is greatly appreciated, First Fang,” Major Edison interrupted.
“ Tallyho, we have targets, bearing twelve o’clock! Break and attack!”
Justin then saw them, an entire wing, it seemed, of Kilrathi fighters. The lean Grikath bombers seemed to be creatures rising from the depths of hell, all blood red angles and torpedo hardpoints. Meanwhile, the Dorkir-class Jak Bo’rah began to sidle up to the Antietam, as if the Terran carrier would suddenly grow arms and wrap them around the rebel transport for protection. “ Echo Wing, you heard the man,” Justin snapped. “ Fire at will!” Pete dove to starboard, while Justin pushed the stick down to port. A Sartha flashed past then, neutron fire creating a new dawn.
Justin hit revert thrusters half way through his fall and inverted, dropping his target reticule over a lumbering Grikath. Caesar had said they should get the bombers away from the Jak Bo’rah and that was what MadDog intended to do. He opened fire with dual laser and particle cannons, splattering the combined fire against the Grikath’s starboard flank. The bomber zipped out of the way of the Terran medium fighter’s guns, going faster than Justin thought a bomber could go. Suddenly, he found it hard to concentrate. The furball was definitely on, with dozens of planes dashing across space, brightening the heavens with gunfire and explosions. “ Stay focused, MadDog,” he told himself.
He stood on his wing and squeezed between a pair of battling fighters, careful to avoid the hail of laser bolts, and dropped back in on the Grikath, which was even now narrowing in on the Bo’rah. He fired again, pumping energy into the bomber’s shields. His VDU told him the Cat’s rear shields were wearing out, but the Kilrathi pilot was rerouting power to his aft shields. The Grikath attempted to evade, the rear turret splattering Justin with neutron fire. “ Come on, come on,” he urged his AI, hoping for a target lock, and quick!
“ Ah, shit, he’s firing a torpedo!” Justin roared. “ Echo Wing, attack my target!”
“ Roger that,” both Pete and Boyar confirmed. But the Cat bastard had already launched the warhead, pulling up as he did so. As soon as the bomber cleared, Justin dropped the reticule on the torpedo, firing his guns at it ineffectually. The torpedo was just too damned maneuverable, though, for his guns to be of any use. Even with his wingmen providing extra fire, the little yellow dot on Justin’s radar kept creeping closer and closer to the bigger blue one.
Suddenly, four more yellow dots sprang into being on the radar display. “ Christ,” Justin whispered. “ This can’t be happening!” But it was. There was nothing they could do. The Kilrathi from Trk’Harna IV had taken the Antietam and her rebel allies totally by surprise, and the bombers had been just too damned fast and maneuverable for their Rapiers to do any good. Justin pulled up and out as the torpedoes hit home, slamming into the golden flank of the Bo’rah with uncontainable wrath. Explosions blossomed from the Dorkir, blinding Overstreet momentarily as he passed over the structure. Massive slabs of durasteel began to float away from the crippled ship, and the Jak Bo’rah herself listed dangerously to port.
Escape pods began to detach from the stricken vessel. “ Antietam, send out some SAR shuttles to pick up these pods!”
“ The fire’s too heavy, Lieutenant. Those pods will have to stick it out until the heat dies down,” came Lt. Commander Jerome’s reply.
Son of a bitch, Justin thought, even as his AI let out a warning. One of those Sarthas had gotten a missile lock on him! “ Someone give me a hand, here!” he shouted, blowing chaff and diving sharply. The DumbFire snaked his way toward him, like a menacing serpent coming out of its den to catch prey. Justin pulled sharply to starboard, the acceleration causing blackness to frame his vision momentarily. He had avoided the missile, but the Sartha was still on him, pumping neutron fire into his rear shields. Justin banked to port and starboard to get out of the way of those guns. His AI let out a warning: his rear shields had failed.
As the Sartha began to chew up his rear armor, a Friend-or-Foe and a Heat Seeking missile converged on Justin’s antagonist, tearing him apart in a dazzling, multi-hued explosion. He craned his neck around to see Babyface’s and Boyar’s Rapiers swooping down in triumph. “ Ya okay, chief?” Gorbunov asked.
“ I’m a little cooked, Nik,” Justin admitted. “ We should have been prepared for these bastards, they- -” His words were cut sort when a tremendous explosion rocked his Rapier. It was the Jak Bo’rah! She had finally been destroyed.
“ Oh, damn!” Pete gasped.
Boyar was more colorful than just, “ Oh, damn.” His voice racked with fury, the Russian pilot roared, “ Goddamn those shit-eating, ass-kissing, motherfucking sons of
Justin opened his mouth to say something, when all of a sudden, a trio of Sarthas dove down upon Echo Wing, wing guns chattering. “ Echo Wing, break formation!” Lieutenant Overstreet ordered. He inverted his F-44 and banked to starboard. His fighter was already damaged enough, he didn’t need to take any more. Justin hit reverse thrusters and came up behind what he supposed was the lead Sartha. Dropping the targeting reticule on the bastard, Justin got missile lock and let fly with a Pilum missile. The Sartha tried to evade, but it flew right into the path of the FF and exploded.
Suddenly, the fire raging around him died off. “ What’s going on?” he demanded.
“ Looks like the Cats did what they came to do and are bugging out,” Major Edison responded. Justin was relieved his squadron commander had come out of the fight alive and well.
“ It’s a damn shame, sir,” he remarked ruefully. “ I just wish we could’ve stopped the buggers.” That old saying came to his mind again: any mission you could walk away from was a good mission. Somehow Justin didn’t feel that way.
But, suddenly, like an avenging angel, a Grikath pounced on him. Justin’s missile warning light went off, filling his head with that God-awful racket. “ Looks like I thought too soon,” he said, bracing himself as the Kilrathi FF missile slammed into his fighter. One of the Rapier’s wings snapped off and spiraled into the void. Justin suddenly lost power. The medium fighter began a deadly roll. “ I require immediate assistance!” he shouted, getting dizzy from the constant spiraling motion of his Rapier.
“ Eject! Eject!” Caesar commanded.
Justin didn’t need to be told twice. He reached down between his feet and yanked the bar as hard as he could, just as his Rapier crashed against a nearby Sartha, blossoming a new star in the heavens.

Twenty minutes later, Justin Overstreet was leaning against his battered eject pod sporting a splitting headache. He had narrowly made it out of his dying Rapier before it had plowed into the Kilrathi fighter. He had suddenly realized then how fragile life was, that if he had been a split second late in pulling that eject bar, he would have been killed. His breathing shallow, Justin buried his face into his shaking hands.
“ You okay, sir?” Spyder asked, stepping up to his superior and offering a salute.
Justin didn’t bother returning the blond 2nd Lieutenant’s salute. “ I’ve been better, Karl, I know that much.”
“ Ah,” Spyder said. “ We just heard from Major Edison. Those furry sons of bitches from Trk’Harna bugged out just after they blew up the Jak Bo’rah.”
“ What about the survivors, the ones that got out just before the Bo’rah blew?” Overstreet asked, fearing the truth.
But Lieutenant Bowen wasn’t bearing bad news. Instead, he nodded toward a shuttle that was even now putting down on the Antietam’s flight deck. “ Captain Ruth just brought ‘em in on the Oliver Perry.”
Rather shakily, Justin rose to his feet. Spyder tried to help, but MadDog waved the kid off. He didn’t need help right now. There were others that needed it more. “ I’ve got to go check on them. If I had been more focused and taken out that Grikath when I had the chance, they wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”
“ Sir, you can’t go blaming yourself now, you hear?” Spyder called after him, but Justin merely replied by turning around and flashing him a wry grin.
Nobody objected when he stepped up to the shuttle, even if he was wearing a scorched flight suit, a bloodied bandage around his head, and sure as didn’t look like the captain. Several Kilrathi were stepping of the Perry, looking confused and haggard. Justin had never seen a Cat in person before. They had always just been blurred, green-colored faces on the VDU, snarling and vicious. But now they looked like any Terran would have in a situation like this: scared.
Captain Ruth and Colonel Drake came onto the flight deck then. The Kilrathi were glad to see them, Justin thought. “ Lieutenant,” Ruth greeted. Usually, Justin would have snapped to attention and saluted the Antietam’s C.O., but he was just too worn out right now. Ruth seemed to understand, however. The Captain turned to a big, brown-furred Kilrathi with his arm in a sling. “ Korag,” Donald said, “ I… I’m sorry. I failed you.”
“ You have nothing to be sorry about, Captain,” Korag purred. “ I should have been more prepared. If I was operating on the edge of the Trk’Harna System, I should have suspected detection by the Imperial forces on the fourth planet.”
Ruth lowered his head sadly, perhaps in defeat or perhaps in mourning for the lost Ghorah Khar rebels. “ Well,” he said gently, “ we could stand around here playing the blame game until the cows come home, but I’d rather try to make some order out of chaos. We still have a mission in this system, Korag, those people on Trk’Harna IV are counting on us…”
Justin decided to leave the flight deck then, in search of some much-needed rest.

Jeremy Overstreet had never been so worked his entire life. His legs and arms ached, were firmer than they had been, but his gut was not as hard as he would have liked. Still, Sergeant Bragg was sadistic. Even as he thought this, he was running through the New Mexican desert in head-to-toe combat fatigues and C-524 space armor, as well as lugging around forty-pound scout and C-532 life support packs. He thought he was going to die. Coupled with that burden a holstered C-244 pistol was at his waist and he clutched an M-47 laser rifle, standard issue for a Marine, but a strange and frightening thing to Jeremy. He had never even seen a real live firearm until this point.
On and on he ran; sweat pouring down his neck, his head swimming. He couldn’t speak for the fifteen other grunts trudging through the desert with him, but he was ready to give up and go back home. But, no… He couldn’t do that. He wouldn’t give his father the satisfaction of seeing him fail. He had come to Scorpion to become a man, to become a soldier; he didn’t want to go back to St. Louis with his tail between his legs. If Justin could make it through basic training, well, then, so could Jeremy. “ Only ten more miles to go” he assured himself, “ and then I die.”
“ Take it easy, Germ, it ain’t so bad,” Jesus Velez said, reaching over to slap Overstreet’s camouflaged helmet. “ This is like a walk in the park to me.”
Jeremy screwed up his face at Velez, who hardly seemed to be breaking a sweat in the sweltering heat. “ You’re nuts, man. You actually can stand this?”
“ Remember, I grew up in Texas, amigo,” the other man replied. “ If I can’t stand heat, then what the hell was I doing in it for almost twenty years of my life?” Jesus grinned to show evenly spaced, white teeth.
Jeremy nodded absently. “ Yeah. I guess by the time I get out of this hellhole, I’ll be able to take a stroll on the sun, or on Mercury, at any rate.” He chuckled lightly, appreciating his attempt at good humor in this hell. “ Yes, sir. Yup. I tell you what.” He began to mumble like that for some time, when all of a sudden a high-pitched screech rent the air.
“ Marines! Shoulder arms!” Sergeant Bragg roared, who seemed to be at ease even more than Jesus Velez was. Jeremy snapped to full focus, unslinging his M-47 and looking down its sight. Sure enough, a swarm of drones were coming their way, tiny laser lights blinking. Tim Hendrix, one of the soldiers-in-training in Jeremy’s squad, let out an indignant snort as a red light in the center of his chest lit up: He’d just been hit by one of the drones. Reslinging his M-47, Tim began the long trip back to base. They’d already lost ten other men and women to that fate. Jeremy figured it was only a matter of time before a drone got him, too.
He spotted a drone zipping past him, took aim, and opened fire. Green streamers of energy lashed out from his rifle, sizzling out toward the drone. The little robot took the brunt of the laser volley and exploded into a thousand shards above Jeremy’s head.
“ Germ, watch out!” Velez warned. Jeremy stared wide-eyed as a drone came his way. Stifling a curse, he hit the desert floor with his shoulder and rolled, his C-524 armor softening the impact, just as a volley of harmless lasers stitched the earth where he had just been standing. He raised his M-47 to his shoulder yet again and squeezed the trigger, destroying this drone just as thouroughly as he had the one before it.
“ All right, you apes! Back in line! We still have ten miles to cover before sundown,” Bragg roared as the last of the drones were decimated. Jeremy did as he was told, slipping back into rank and continuing his grueling march across the desert. They marched on and on for Jeremy didn’t know how many hours, engaging the drones only twice more, before they finally reached their destination. Terran Confederation Marine Camp 12 it was called. When they arrived, Bragg allowed them to refill their canteens and take a small breather. This small level of charity from their drill sergeant surprised Jeremy at first, until he realized that if they didn’t keep hydrated Bragg would lose his squad as well as his job.
When Sergeant Bragg called them back into line that evening, a military bus waited there to take them back to Scorpion. “ Thank God,” Jeremy whispered to Jesus Velez. “ I thought I’d have to walk all the way back.”
“ It’s not so hot during night, though,” Velez said. Overstreet replied with a shrug.
The remaining grunts formed a neat row. There were only four people left from the thirty that had started out that morning: Jeremy, Jesus, Mikhail Leonov, and Jessica Harcourt. Bragg eyed the quartet. Jeremy expected a chew-out of some sort, although he had no clue what the hell they had done. Instead, Bragg just said, “ Good job. Not get your asses onto that bus!” Jeremy suppressed his chuckle, and gratefully climbed into the vehicle.
Around 2300 hours that night, after a supper of a beans and cornbread, Jeremy was awakened by a strange noise. He slowly opened his eyes, scanning them around the barracks. “ Hello?” he called.
“ Hey, sweetie,” a falsetto greeted, and Jeremy realized it was Jesus Velez. With a groan, he tossed his pillow at the Texan. “ Look, Germ, some of the guys and I are going into town for a little… ah, excitement. You game?”
Jeremy rose up on his elbows, his brown eyes wide. “ Are you nuts? Bragg’ll skin you alive, Velez! How do you expect to get out of camp?”
“ You’re such a wuss, Germ,” the other man responded. “ And Tim found a way out of camp. There’s a smaller gopher borough or something out by the southeastern end of the gate. If we can squeeze through there and back in again before roll call tomorrow morning, then we’ve got no problem from Sergeant Bragg.”
“ I still say you’re nuts, Velez. But…” Jeremy let a small grin creep onto his face.
“ Well, it was my nineteenth birthday last week. I ought to treat myself.”
Velez boomed with laughter and jabbed Jeremy a good one in the shoulder.
“ That’s the man! Come on, get dressed.” Jeremy did as he was told, slipping into the only civilian clothes he still had in his possession. They smelled sort of stale after almost a month in a footlocker at the end of his bunk, but they were a hell of a lot more comfortable than his coarse Confed uniform.
When Jeremy was finished sprucing up, he followed Jesus out to the gap in the fence where Tim Hendrix and Orlando Smith were already waiting. They easily slipped out without anyone noticing and made their way across the cool desert evening. Jesus had been right: the desert was almost tolerable at night. It might even be a little chilly! About a half hour later, they came to the small hamlet of Scorpion, New Mexico, which was about ten or fifteen miles outside of Albuquerque. They instantly made their way to the closest bar, a little brick building with a brilliant neon sign declaring them the
“Scorpion’s Lair.” Jeremy cringed at the giant fiberglass arachnid poised over the entrance, but shook the irrational fear off.
The Scorpion’s Lair certainly was a dive. A beat up holovid played the latest Clint Mason serial while an equally beat up music player boomed Aaron Henton. Pool cues cracked and liquor bottles tumbled off of alcohol-soaked tables. The smell was enough to make Jeremy gag. He tugged on Jesus’s elbow. “ Hey, let’s go back to camp, man. It’s not worth it. Sergeant Bragg’s probably discovered we’re gone by now.”
“ Come on, Germ, lighten up, okay? Let us have some fun,” Velez shot back, perhaps just a tad annoyed. The four Marines-in-training stepped up to the bar, which was being manned by a short guy with bushy white side-whiskers and a patch over one eye. An anchor tattooed on his arm proclaimed that he once served in the Terran Confederation Marine Corps.
Tim Hendrix talked to the leatherneck-turned-bartender and came back to the other three young men holding four glasses filled to the brim with a dark red liquid. Jeremy took the glass and cautiously peered in. The glass was filthy, and the drink it contained smelled funny. “ What is this?” he asked. “ Turpentine?”
“ They call it a Hell’s Kitchen, Germ,” Smith said, gulping his down and then shaking like a man possessed. “ Boy, that’s good shit!” Jesus and Tim gave similar reactions after downing their Hell’s Kitchens. “ Come on, Germ,” Orlando urged. “ Gulp it down, man. Come on. Chug! Chug! Chug!” Jesus and Tim soon picked up the chant.
Jeremy chugged. The liquor went down his throat like fire, and hit his stomach like a ton of bricks. He had never drank before. The experience was an eye-opener, that was certain. After his third or fourth Hell’s Kitchen, Overstreet was feeling a bit woozy. He reached out a hand to steady himself on the bar. What’s wrong with me? he wondered. Oh, hell. I’m drunk! He wondered what his mom would have said has she had been here. He cringed at the thought.
Suddenly, a bottle flew across the Scorpion’s Lair, smashing against the far wall with a crash. Jeremy turned his head around to see four thugs standing in the bar’s entrance. They looked like Marines, but their bulging biceps full of tattoos and the clubs they held in their hands proved that they weren’t. “ Well, well,” one of them (the lead one, Jeremy thought) said. “ This looks like a good place to start a fight!”
“ Hey, we don’t want no trouble,” the barkeep pleaded.
“ Shut up, pops!” Leader barked, pointing his club at the ex-soldier. The bartender said no more.
Jeremy leaned in close to his friends. “ Who they?” he slurred.
“ The Blood Suckers,” Orlando Smith whispered. “ Grew up in these parts. Don’t wanna cross ‘em. No, siree. Them can give Kilrathi a run for money.” He was as drunk as Jeremy was. But the four members that made up the Scorpion gang sauntered over to the Marines’ table, their grins reminding Jeremy of a cat ready to pounce on a mouse.
“ Lookee here, Bear,” one of the Blood Suckers said to Leader. “ We got us some Marines. Reckon they looking for a fight?”
Bear scratched at his thick blond beard. “ Reckon so, Nomad,” he replied, slamming his club down the table.
Tim Hendrix stood, his hands balling into fists. “ We don’t want no trouble,” Tim said. “ Fact, we was just leaving.” Jeremy knew that wasn’t true, but knew that Tim was trying to keep them from getting into the mud with the Blood Suckers.
But Bear wouldn’t have it. “ You’re yella’!” he roared, lashing out with a sharp right cross which caught Tim across the jaw.
Hendrix smiled viciously. “ Oh, it’s on now,” he said and threw himself on Bear. He tackled the gang leader to the ground and began to pound his face over and over. Blood poured from the big man’s nose. A crowd began to gather around the two, gape-mouthed and pointing. With a howl of laughter, Jeremy, Orlando, and Jesus tipped over the table, knocking the other Blood Suckers to the ground, as well as a few glasses of Hell’s Kitchen. Rushing out of his seat, Jeremy picked up the chair and crashed it down on one of the big guy’s back, toppling him the floor.
“ Reckon we looking for a fight, Jesus?” he said in his best impression of the Blood Suckers.
Velez nodded. “ Reckon we are, Germ. Reckon we are.” One of the gang members scrambled to his feet and rushed the Texan, slamming him against the wall. The barkeep screamed out as an autographed picture of Vance Richards crashed to the ground. Jeremy didn’t care about military memorabilia. He threw himself on the back of the gang member that had tackled Bear and began to grapple with him. He got the big guy to the ground and was pounding him in the nose when all of a sudden the sound of a laser gun being fired rent the air. Jeremy looked up too see Sergeant Bragg standing in the doorway holding an M-47. Five other MPs stood behind him.
Jeremy hung his head in defeat. “ Shit.”

“ You know something, I ought to kick all of yer asses out of Scorpion and send you back to mommy. Lord knows that’s where you sons of bitches belong!” Bragg roared once they got back to the camp. The four young Marines were bruised and bloodied, but that did not stop the drill sergeant from giving them the chew-out of their lives. “ I mean, what the hell were you maggots thinking? Smith? Overstreet? Velez? Hendrix?” Not one of them had an answer. “ And to top it all off, you boys snuck out and got drunk! Lieutenant Sanchez is telling me to kick you guys out.” Bragg’s grin suddenly turned predatory. “ But I’m not going to do that.”
“Sergeant?” Jeremy said, incredulous. He thought for sure they’d be expelled from Scorpion Training Camp for the debacle with the Blood Suckers gang.
Bragg jabbed a finger at Overstreet’s chest. “ You heard me right, maggot. I’m gonna keep you bastards here, but it’s gonna be the worst time of your entire life. You’re gonna want to be dead after I’m through with you. By the time I let you loose from here, you’re never gonna want to see another potato for as long as you live. Your goddamned arms are gonna fall off from all the push-ups you’ll be doing.” He laughed, low and menacing. “ Now when you hear that bugle tomorrow morning, you’re gonna make every soldier’s bed, clean every soldier’s toilet, wipe every soldier’s ass if I tell you to. You got me?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” they barked in unison.
Bragg smiled again.

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited October 30, 2000).]
Yes, another good chapter. Of course, reading three chapters in a row doesn't help when it comes to making comments

BTW, what IS it with all these kids in Confed? I mean, have they dropped the requisite age down to 15 or something? This is nuts
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Well, it may seem goofy to us now, in the year 2000, but when humanity has been engaged in constant war with an alien species bent on humanity's defeat for thirty years, they'd get a litle desparate and take anyone that can lift a rifle.

'Sides, Jason Bondarevsky joined the Academy at sixteen.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Yeah, he did. And he had to use a false ID or whatever to do so
. Also, he's just one person. You seem to have a whole lot of those kids, and none of them are even trying to pretend they're old enough.
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Refer to what I said below. It's been known to happen before, desparate nations drafting teenagers 'cause most of the adults are already at the front lines.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
<Sigh> If you say so. I just don't see how that could be the case, if Bear had to lie to get in - that seems to contradict your argument. But hey, this is no big thing.
At least I hope it's not a big thing. It's not like I made 'em twelve or anything. But, would you be happy if I said I was wrong and made Jeremy 35 years old?
<---- wry grin

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Have edited the chapter. None of the recruits at my Marine camp are under eighteen, so now you have no argument, Quarto.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Yet again, have edited chapter. Italics have been placed where appropriate. Some system names have been changed.

Expect Ch. 4 soon, by the way.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Oh, I almost forgot
. The Rapier is actually F-44G (well, G is the variant used in WC2, anyway). You've listed it as F-54, which is actually the Epee
(and the WC2 variant of the Epee is F-54C, to be precise).

Would you like the numbers for the other WC2 fighters as well?
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End Run calls it the F-54. That's where I got my information. But you probably know more than Bill Forstchen
. Sure, lay the other numbers on me.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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End Run? Never, ever, use any information given by Forstchen

P-64C Ferret
F-54C Epee
F-44G Rapier
F-57A Sabre
A-17D Broadsword

And that would be about all. Of course, there is still the Super Ferret and the Crossbow, but those haven't been invented yet
Note that the Sabre is A. This would imply that it's the newest fighter out there, because it hasn't been in service long enough to get an upgrade. The Rapier, on the other hand, in its eleven years, had gotten 6 upgrades, apparently.
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Ah, got the Ferret right! I remember Sparks calling it the P-64 in WC2 (or was it one of the Special Operations-- don't know, haven't played those games in ever).

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Okay, I've changed the Rapier to the F-44. Is it only in this chapter where I made that mistake?

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Only in this chapter, but twice... I think.

You're best off just running a search for it in all the chapters, in case I missed something
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Oh, you're really gonna hate me now
. How many suggestions have I already made today?

D'Ger can't be between Ghorah Khar and Gwynedd, because both systems are firmly under Confed control. Remember, Blair had spent ten years in Gwynedd, and didn't even see a single Kilrathi. So, if there's a Kilrathi-controlled system between Gwynedd and Ghorah Khar, Blair wouldn't have suffered from the chronic lack of targets

A suggestion (I wonder if you'll actually accept any of these?
): Change it to either K'k Tahn or Natanya. The latter would probably work better, because it's got a jump point leading to Ghorah Khar.
Yes, I know that Natanya later on has its own rebellion, but there's no reason why there wouldn't be two habitable worlds in one system, one being named D'Ger

It'll be interesting to see what you'll do with this whole rebellion of yours, since technically, it has no right to exist, let alone win
. Maybe you'll have all the rebels evacuated to Ghorah Khar?

BTW, you do realise that any rebels who were on D'Ger when the Imperial Marines stormed the place have already joined Sivar, don't you?
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Yes, I do realize any rebels on D'Ger would have been killed, and they were, but Korag and his fellow expatriates fled, which made them expatriates.
Some rebels probably fled into hiding in the jungles, so that would explain why Ruth said, " Those people on D'Ger IV are counting on us."

Damn... I want to keep D'Ger as a system. Sure, it doesn't really exist, but this is fan fiction. I can take liberties. Obviously, the Outlands never existed.

Also, keep in mind that D'Ger doesn't have a large military force. We have the three destroyers (one now, since you have read Ch. IV) and there's another smaller ship which plays a big part in Ch. 5. D'Ger IV originally wasn't a military world, but a civilian one. It had only recently been captured by the Marines when rebel activities began to take place. Perhaps they had not forayed into Gwynedd or Ghorah Khar, instead focusing on keeping Korag's rebellion in line. That is before the Antietam arrived in the system and the rebels were almost wiped out (Ch. 3 and 4).

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 10, 2000).]
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I've been looking at the map. K'k Tahn and Natanya could work, but they're quite a ways away from Heinlein, and getting there would probably take them straight though K'tithrak Mang, and we wouldn't want that.
Any suggestions on how I can pull that off, Quarto?

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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I've gone ahead and changed D'Ger to Trk'Harna, a planet in Isaac Quadrant. I've also changed a couple of minor things.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Ok, now there's a slight problem with Trk Harna. Now, I'm sure this won't be too bad, just as long as you keep it in mind
. You see, the only way to get to Trk Harna is through Repleetah (or K'tithrak Mang; there's also an alternative route through Trafalgar, K'k Tahn, Khar-sa and Tv'x Aq - but I don't think you want to take either of those routes
) which was lost in '64. Mind you, there is no enemy presence in the system, except for a few Kilrathi Marines on the planet (or maybe not - the manual says "no one survived"; this could mean that all the Marines died, not just the Confed ones). The major trouble with the Repleetah route is that it takes you through several systems. From Niven, it's four jumps away. This route apparently was almost never used, since Repleetah is said to have absolutely no significance to either side.

Still, if you can figure that out, then fine
. Trk Harna does match your description of a backwater very well
. The place would have no military significance whatsoever.

Hmm... but if you liberate Trk Harna (though I get the feeling that that's not actually gonna happen
), then Confed will have an alternative jump route into K'tithrak Mang. The result? Trk Harna will be flooded with Kilrathi capships faster than you can blink.

Still, that all sounds like great story material to me
. If you write that stuff in...
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