Chapter VII - Rescue


Unknown Enemy
Here's Chapter VII. It's the longest one yet, being about 12 pages instead of the usual 8. Be warned, some sections were written while half-asleep


VII. Rescue.
Lieutenant T E Lawrence looked about the bridge wearily as he popped another energy pill into his mouth, wincing at its bitter taste. Twenty-one hours. That would not be a problem under normal circumstances… but these weren’t normal circumstances. Flying a fighter is exhausting, particularly when there’s combat involved. And there had been – twice. Weaver had no doubts that there would be more before his day was finally over.
But it had already been a long and stressful day, and even the energy pills were failing. He now had to take one every half-hour, whereas they’d normally be taken every three hours. Well, one more flight and I’m done, Weaver thought, trying to cheer himself up.
Outside the vast front window, the asteroids were already getting dangerously close. In a few minutes Weaver would have to launch, to help clear the path for the Kamekh. Rhe’dhi, whose craft hadn’t taken as much damage as the Ferret, was already out there.
“Where does he get the energy from?” Lawrence wondered aloud as the Broadsword flew past the window.
Hharak, in his usual position at the helm, grinned – displaying his very much feral-looking teeth. “Whe Kilrathi arr bhigg’r h’andh thougherr thahn the Terranss. Andh Rhe’dhi iss yhang, h‘andh fit.”
“Yeah, you tell him, Hharak.” Paladin chuckled as he entered the bridge. He had been to visit the prisoner. “Are you ready to go, laddie?”
“No, sir.” Weaver replied. “But I’m as near ready as I’ll ever be.”
Colonel Taggart nodded understandingly. “If everything goes well, you’ll get a few hours’ rest after this flight. Of course, none of us will really rest until we return to Confed space.” He pointed towards the window. “First, we’ll need you to take out some of the rocks that might get in our way. The Krak’ni’hra be helping with flak cannons, but a lot will still depend on you and Rhe’dhi. Then, once we’re settled in, fly to the destroyer’s coordinates.”
“And pray that it’s there…” Lawrence added morosely.
“I know… that’s why you need to be extremely careful. The moment you think something’s not right, get out of there. But remember, if the ship is there, a lot of lives are depending on us.”
“Sir, what we find the destroyer and Kilrathi ships as well?”
“Any attack against a destroyer would have to be fairly heavy, lad.” Paladin replied. “You and Rhe’dhi may not be able to save it alone. But if you can hold the attackers off until I can get the Krak’ni’hra into position…”
“Understood.” Weaver saluted him.
“Glad ta hear that. Now, get going.” He patted the Lieutenant on the shoulder, and pushed him towards the door.
* * *
“Systems check complete.” Weaver laughed, as he reported into the comm system. “You should fix my fighter more often, sir. This thing claims to be working one-twenty percent.”
“Well… that’s years for experience for you, lad.” Paladin replied from the Kamekh. “Get going already.”
“Yes, sir.” Lawrence grinned as he pushed the throttle to full speed. The energy pill was just coming into full effect. He knew the effects wouldn’t last for that long – all the more reason to take advantage of them while they lasted. After what seemed like ages, but in reality was perhaps a half-second, the Krak’ni’hra’s grapples released the Ferret, which immediately raced forward towards the asteroid belt. “But ah…” Weaver couldn’t resist it. “How did you get so much experience fixing fighters, Colonel?”
“By helping impertinent young pilots with their own ships, laddie.” Came Paladin’s amused reply.
Weaver laughed again, even as he targeted an asteroid. To his right, he could see Rhe’dhi’s Broadsword, already firing at another rock that was tumbling towards the Kamekh. He watched with satisfaction as his Ferret’s guns tore the asteroid into less dangerous pieces. This wasn’t as exciting as fighting the Kilrathi… but it wasn’t as dangerous either.
* * *
“That’s a hundred and seven…” Lawrence announced. “Colonel, I don’t suppose these count as kills?”
He heard somebody – probably Talon – laugh. “No, they don’t, laddie.” Paladin finally replied. He was also laughing. “They make good target practice, though.”
“Ah well… I s’pose they do, at that.” Weaver agreed as he targeted yet another rock on a collision course with the Krak’ni’hra. He pressed down on the trigger for a second. The asteroid broke apart as the volley from his guns hit it. “And that would be number one hundred and eight. How are you doing, Rhe’dhi?” Through his window, he could see where the Broadsword was gunning down asteroids on the Kamekh’s flank.
“I dho nhath khanth sstonss.”
“He got ye there, Weaver.” James threw in. “Well, I think that’s as far as we’ll be going.”
“Huh? Oh, right.” Behind him, he could see the Corvette starting to decelerate. He quickly turned the Ferret around, to do a final loop around the Krak’ni’hra. “Ok, Krak’ni’hra. You’re on your own then. Weaver out.”
As he completed the loop, Rhe’dhi formed on his wing. Together they flew, deeper into the asteroid belt. And on board the Kamekh, Paladin watched; praying fervently that there indeed was a destroyer. He had no choice; he had to send them. Still, even if there was no Confed ship, Browning had been in no position to prepare any sort of ambush. Hell, he didn’t even know we’d be coming, James thought. Maybe we’re just being paranoid.
* * *
“Just keep talking, Rhe’dhi.” Weaver said in a weary voice. The effects of the pill were running out, and he was on the verge of drifting into sleep again. Fortunately, they were out of the rocks by now… then again, at least in the belt he was too busy to doze off. Out here, there was nothing. Just him, his wingmate, and the stars.
“Kheep thalhlkhing? Ofh whath?” The Kilrathi asked sleepily.
They had been talking ever since they left the asteroid belt. Lawrence had told him all about life at Krieger – but there wasn’t much to tell, really. As he talked, Weaver suddenly realised just how little he had participated in the space station’s daily life. In essence, Krieger was just a vast empty space in his memory. He hadn’t cared to remember anybody he’d met there, and now he was paying the price.
“I don’t know…” he finally replied to Rhe’dhi’s question. “How about the Mandarins? What do you make of them?” Weaver surprised himself by asking. But ever since Browning came aboard, Mandarins and treason were never far from his mind. And Javelin wasn’t either.
Rhe’dhi let out a disdainful noise, as if trying to eject something from his throat. “They arr… whe Kilrathi whouldh khallh them sa’guk.”
“Sa… sa’guk?” Lawrence stared at Rhe’dhi’s face in the screen. “What does that mean?”
The Kilrathi grinned. “I thoughth yho hhadh sstudied the Kilrathi?”
“Not quite. I am – not was – studying the Kilrathi. I haven’t really gotten around to your language… yet.”
“Ah. Vherhy whellh. A sa’guk iss one who hhas grreatly disshon’rrd hhimsself. So grreatly, thath hhe iss khonssid’rrd deadh bhy hhis famhily.”
Weaver took a few seconds to digest the notion. He was getting used to Rhe’dhi’s accent, but sometimes his words still sounded like a foreign language. “An outcast then?” He finally asked. “Outside the law, outside the society?”
“Yhess. Thath iss khorrekt.”
“And yet…” Lawrence hesitated, not wanting to anger his Kilrathi wingmate. “And yet, the Kilrathi accept the Mandarins. Isn’t it dishonourable to deal with one who is considered a… sa’guk, by his own people?”
Rhe’dhi sighed sadly. “The Kilrathi dho mhanhy dishonorr’bl thingss. That’ss why ssome h’of uss hhave join’d the Khonfhed’ration. Whe khouldn’t sserve ourr Emphire if it dishon’rrd us!”
Weaver frowned. He had expected a strong reaction, but this wasn’t quite it. Rhe’dhi’s tone was pleading, rather than angry. As if… as if he was trying to justify himself. For what? For rejecting dishonour? But then, they probably considered their rebellion dishonourable too, Terry thought. What it must have done to them, to abandon the Empire…
“Rhe’dhi, your people were right to leave the Empire behind. What else could you have done?” He asked.
“Bhath… whe lhefth h’our pheoph’l. Whe abhandhon’d themh…” Rhe’dhi replied. “Tho avhoidh dishonorr, whe dishon’rrd h’oursselhvess.”
Lawrence nodded. He’d been right then. And he wasn’t the only one with daemons to exorcise. “Rhe’dhi… do your people – people from K’arakh – wish to destroy the Imperial Kilrathi?”
“Nho!” Rhe’dhi angrily retorted. “Whe fhight tho ssavhe them! The Emphire iss dishon’rringhh themh! Whe fhight tho rrestorr Kilrathi hhonor!”
Terry smiled. Ain’t no daemon that won’t leave. “And is there dishonour then, in trying to save the Kilrathi race?”
Silence fell, as the Kilrathi suddenly understood Weaver’s reasoning.
“Nho…” Rhe’dhi finally replied. “Bhat… bhat what doss ith matt’rr, when whe mhast fhight h’our h’own Hrai… h’our khlanss. Whe thoo, arr sa’guk.”
“I was wondering about that, actually. Because you call yourself Rhe’dhi nar K’arakh. If your clan is from K’arakh, then surely they support you?”
“Ahll Kilrathi h’on K’arakh arr h’of the K’arakh Hrai.” Rhe’dhi answered. “Whe Kilrathi nheed tho bhelongh. That iss why whe mhast rremhain loyhal tho arr khlans… when whe jhoinhed the Khonfed’ration… whe whon h’our freedhom, bhat lhost arr Hrai. Sso, whe forrmed arr own Hrai; nhow whe arr nar K’arakh.”
“Then you’re not… sa’guk… any more. And perhaps this is all necessary?”
“Perrhapss.” Rhe’dhi nar K’arakh said. They fell silent, each deep in his own thoughts.
* * *
This is the middle of nowhere, Lawrence thought, looking around. They had been flying for some time now, and were approaching the position of the destroyer. All around them was totally empty vacuum – even the stars seemed to be further away than usual.
“Rhe’dhi? How’s your radar?”
That, Weaver supposed, was a good sign. No enemy ships in the area could mean that the destroyer really was here somewhere. Could it be that the smuggler was telling the truth?
His instinct was saying otherwise. But instinct could be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time, certainly.
“Rhe’dhi? Anything?”
“Nho. That iss the fifhth thyme yho asskh. Hhav patienss.”
“Sorry.” Weaver replied ruefully. “It’s just that we’re getting close, and…”
“I hhav one!” The Kilrathi interrupted him, voice brimming with an alert sort of excitement. “Ah grray blip!”
On an impulse, Terry looked towards the endless horizon. But there was nothing there yet. The Broadsword’s radar could reach much further than human eyes. “Can you tell if it’s friendly?” Weaver asked, also excited. It must be the destroyer. What else could it be?
“It’ss stihll grray. Bhat… it’ss perrhapss fhorr hhundred methres lhongh. Mhaybhe a bhith lhess.”
Less than four hundred metres. A Gilgamesh class destroyer was somewhere in that category. Actually, it was just a bit more than three hundred – but on the radar, it would indeed fall into the same size group.
“What do you think? Should we radio Paladin?” Lawrence grinned. He’d have to admit that the smuggler had told the truth… but so what? At least they found the survivors. He sighed with relief, when the grey blip finally appeared on his radar. They were getting closer. In fact, he could already see a lighter spot on the horizon.
“Lhetss esstablish khonthakt firsst.” Rhe’dhi replied. If the destroyer was identified as grey, it was probably severely damaged… or it had its comm arrays shut down. But wouldn’t the ship have detected their fighters even before it appeared on the Broadsword’s radar? They must have taken a lot of damage, or…
“Hrssh!” Rhe’dhi suddenly hissed. Something wasn’t right. On his radar, two more – much larger – grey blips appeared, far behind the first one.
“I don’t like the look of this!” Weaver replied, for the other two ships were now also visible on his radar. “I’m gonna burn towards that first one. See if I can get visual id.” Even as he spoke, he kicked in the afterburners. The Broadsword rapidly fell behind as he charged towards the unidentified ship.
Slowly, but surely, the vessel grew bigger in his window. Weaver flew closer still.
He could almost make out the colour now. “Come on…” he whispered. Maybe the destroyer met up with other surviving ships?
And suddenly, he realised that the ship’s hull was a reddish brown.
“Oh, dammit!” He yelled into the radio, even as he turned the Ferret back towards Rhe’dhi. At the very same moment, the three grey blips turned red. “Rhe’dhi, we’ve got to get out of here!” He exclaimed, cursing silently. Whatever made him think that the smuggler could tell the truth? But was it coincidence, that they found the Kilrathi ships here? It may have been that they had only just taken out the Confed destroyer – but the chances of Weaver, Rhe’dhi, and the Kilrathi being here at the same time were far too low. So, was he actually a traitor? He must’ve known about the enemy ships, Lawrence decided. In his mind, Terry was already thinking of how nice it would be to beat the hell out of the man that led them straight into this.
“Weaver?” Rhe’dhi’s voice instantly pulled him back to reality. “They’rre lhanchingh fhighterss!” Indeed, several smaller blips had appeared on the radar, and were rapidly moving towards them.
“This is not good!” Weaver exclaimed. The Broadsword was not equipped with afterburners, and here they were, right besides a Kilrathi strike force. He quickly crossed the gap between himself and Rhe’dhi, all the while trying to figure a way out of the situation. Retreat? He might make it, but his wingmate would have no chance. Fight? God knows how many fighters that strike force had. He grinned. It didn’t matter how many, since the five that were closing on them right now would probably be sufficient. “All right, Rhe’dhi. Any ideas?” He asked, when he finally reached the Broadsword.
On the screen, he could see Rhe’dhi’s perplexed expression. “I dho nhath khnowh… whe Kilrathi dho nhath thurn downh a fhighth, bhat…”
But if we fight – we’re done for, Weaver finished the sentence in his mind. He glanced at the radar – they must be light fighters, for they were closing fast. Already, they were within twenty thousand metres. And there would probably be more soon enough. “We must get away, but those fighters are faster than the Broadsword!”
“Yho… khouldh gho alhone.”
“Like hell, I could!” Lawrence retorted angrily. “I promised not to abandon you, didn’t I?”
“Ifh whe bhoth dhie, the Krak’ni’hra whillh hhav nho prrothek’chion.”
“Neither of us will be of much use alone, Rhe’dhi. We both must get away.” As he spoke, Weaver cast another nervous glance at the radar. The fighters were rapidly closing. He turned his head to look out through the rear window. They were indeed plainly visible – Sartha fighters, he decided. For some reason, they had always reminded him of butterflies – or was it bats? But then, their distinct shape invoked so many images. Right now though, they were bats – vampire bats, their wings glistening with blood.
“Thenh lheth uss fhighth! Ifh whe khanh desstroyh theess khwikhly, whe khanh gheth ahwayh bheforr theyh lhanch mhorr!”
There was something fundamentally wrong with that idea, Weaver concluded – fighting these won’t delay the next group. But it was their only option. Maybe, if Rhe’dhi continued on? Lawrence laughed at himself. Who was he, to think he could defeat five fighters by himself? But even together with Rhe’dhi, it was still two against five. It will take some hard flying.
Terry sighed. No choice. “All right, let’s fight.” He finally said, even as he turned the Ferret to face the enemy. And just in time, for the Sartha were already in firing range.
He kicked into afterburners, and charged straight through the middle of the oncoming fighters. His sudden manoeuvre took the cats by surprise, and their blasts of neutrons flew harmlessly past his sides. Another quick turn brought him right onto a Sartha’s tail.
Lawrence opened fire with the Ferret’s mass drivers, and watched in satisfaction as the Kilrathi’s shields collapsed beneath the strain. But already, another enemy fighter was firing at him. With a quick roll, Weaver avoided another volley of neutrons, while his target deftly slipped away.
“Dammit!” He swore. With five enemy ships out there, neither he nor Rhe’dhi would have enough time to gun down any of them. And if they kept flying evasive manoeuvres, the Kilrathi would quickly wear them down. “Rhe’dhi? How are you doing?” He asked, not having time to see where the Broadsword was.
“I amh… fhine. Bhat I hhav nhath khillhedh yhet.” Rhe’dhi replied, sounding rather strained.
We really need to cut down these odds, Weaver thought. All right, let’s try this.
He armed a heat-seeker, and turned towards the nearest Sartha. It was aiming at Rhe’dhi – a perfect opportunity, Lawrence decided. A short burst of afterburners got him several hundred metres behind the enemy ship. He flipped the cap off the missile trigger, waiting…
A warning tone! Suddenly, his ship rocked from side to side as a blast from a Kilrathi’s guns bit deep into his shields. No time for tone then. Already, another Kilrathi was firing at him.
“All right. Let’s try this your way.” Weaver spoke, gritting his teeth. He switched the burners on, flying rapidly towards the fighter in front of him. The Sartha was still focused on Rhe’dhi, confident in his wingmates’ protection. Lawrence grinned tightly, as the distance between the two ships was two hundred metres. One hundred… it was now or never! He pushed the trigger, and the missile flew straight towards the Kilrathi. Its guidance didn’t kick in – but it didn’t need to at such short range. As Weaver pulled the flight stick to the side, himself only barely avoiding collision, he saw the missile explode on the Sartha’s tail. Shreds of metal flew out in all directions as the cat broke up.
“All right! That’s one less to deal with!” Lawrence almost yelled into the radio.
“Thoo lhess!” Rhe’dhi replied triumphantly. Weaver risked a quick glance at the Broadsword, and saw it fly through a loose clump of debris – the remains of a Kilrathi fighter.
Another blast of neutrons! Weaver’s joy turned to chagrin as the enemy’s guns tore through his shields and penetrated the Ferret’s flank. He kicked into afterburners again, rapidly leaving the Sartha behind. For a light fighter, the Sartha class was actually quite slow – Confed had heavies that were faster. But unfortunately, the Broadsword wasn’t one of them. It was better armed though…
Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. “Rhe’dhi! Get those friend-or-foes ready!” If this works…
“Whath?” The Kilrathi answered in surprise. Lawrence could only hope that Rhe’dhi had the presence of mind to fire his missiles at the right moment. Still, no time to explain.
He switched his comms to a short-range burst transmission, on all frequencies. If they had their radios on, they would hear him. “You are nothing but a sa’guk!” He yelled. Whether they understood the English part, the last word ought to get their attention. “You are sa’guk!” Weaver repeated, as he flew towards the three Kilrathi on afterburners. “Sa’guk! Sa’guk!”
A Kilrathi face appeared on his screen. “Hrr! Tuka! Sa’guk nar Nak’tara!” He growled.
Lawrence grinned. He’d been told that one could often goad the enemy into making mistakes with taunts, but he’d never had a chance to try it before. Apparently, it worked. The three Kilrathi fighters were now all firing at him – and ignoring his wingmate.
“Rhe’dhi!” Weaver yelled. He turned his ship, and flew towards the Broadsword.
“I amh prreparrd!” Rhe’dhi replied tensely.
Good, Weaver thought. Then Rhe’dhi had understood what he was planning. I just hope he gets it right. They both knew very well what the price of a mistake would be.
Looking back, Lawrence saw that the Kilrathi were still hot on his tail. But not for long, he thought as he flew right past the Broadsword’s cabin. He switched the burners off now, letting the Kilrathi catch up with him.
“Come on, Rhe’dhi…” he whispered as he started flying evasive manoeuvres. The three Sartha were charging towards him, firing continuously. Finally, they flew past the Broadsword… Weaver saw three yellow spots appear on the radar, one after the other.
The Kilrathi were still concentrating on him when the first missile hit, and one of them exploded. Before they could realise what was going on, the other two missiles both crashed into another Sartha.
“Well… that reduced the odds nicely!” Weaver exclaimed as he turned back towards the last Kilrathi.
“Nhath enough!” Came Rhe’dhi’s reply. “Theyh’rre lhanchingh mhorr!”
“Oh, shit!” Lawrence answered. Still, it was only to be expected. In a split second, he made his decision. “Rhe’dhi, we can’t fight all these ships! Return to the Krak’ni’hra… I’ll hold them back, and then join you later!”
“Yho rriskh a lhot!” Rhe’dhi told him as they both fired on the last Sartha.
“I know that! But it’s the only way we can both get out alive!” With a clean manoeuvre, Weaver placed himself on the enemy fighter’s tail, blasting away at its shields.
His wingmate let out a sigh. “Yhess. I whillh gho… bhat yho mhasth sstay nho longherr than necessarrhi.”
“Of course I won’t!” Lawrence laughed – but even to him, it sounded slightly forced. “I’m not insane…” he added. The Sartha in front of him was squirming, but the enemy pilot wasn’t good enough. Weaver cut the distance between them with afterburners, and unleashed a final – deadly – volley. He averted his eyes as the enemy fighter lit up into a bright fireball.
“Nhath a momhenth longherr than necessarrhi!” Rhe’dhi repeated. On his radar, Weaver could see the Broadsword was moving away at full speed. He looked out through the window, where Rhe’dhi’s ship was quickly getting smaller. It took the full force of his willpower not to call him back.
“Here I am – alone again.” Terry said to himself. “But this time, through my own choice.” He looked at the radar again. The wing of Kilrathi fighters would reach him in about a minute. Then he’d have to hold them back for another three minutes. That ought to be enough for Rhe’dhi to reach the asteroid belt.
But would he be able to survive those three minutes? Lawrence sighed, as he set the radio to a broad-beam setting aimed at the Krak’ni’hra’s location. A quick transmission, so they don’t get enough time to detect its target.
* * *
“Sir?” Talon exclaimed. “Incoming transmission. And it’s Confed!”
“Put it through to the speakers!” Paladin replied. Had they found the destroyer?
“Krak’ni’hra? This is Weaver.” The Lieutenant sounded exhausted, James noticed. “We’ve run into… problems. There’s a large Kilrathi force out here… too large. I’ve sent Rhe’dhi home, and I’ll try to hold them back long enough for him to get into the belt. Colonel… I’m not planning on dying just yet, but if I don’t make it back… it’s been an honour, sir. Kill that traitor for me.”
The transmission ended. Paladin looked at Talon, and then at Hharak. They all knew this was a possibility, but it seemed so unlikely…
Colonel Taggart let his hands drop in utter helplessness. Could that boy make it alone? If he’d sent Rhe’dhi back, then the situation really must be bad.
Talon looked at him, with a look that spoke volumes. They shouldn’t have trusted Browning, and now they were paying the price.
But, dammit, Weaver would not die, Paladin decided. “Talon, help me prep the Scimitar!”
“Rhe’dhi has no afterburners, but the Scimitar does. I can help him, and I’m fast enough to get away with him afterwards!”
“Colonel, what if…” Talon objected, but James put up a warning hand.
“I’m not letting him die.” He said adamantly, and walked out the door.
* * *
“Not much longer now…” Weaver whispered. Two more minutes. But would he last? The three Drakhri fighters were keeping up a constant barrage of fire; he couldn’t even get them in his sights as he kept flying evasively.
As he performed another hard turn, he couldn’t help but notice that the Ferret’s nose wasn’t turning at the same angle as the rest of the ship. There was a narrow crack right in front of the cabin, where he’d taken a hit from the enemy lasers. He grimaced, just praying that his ship’s frame would manage – the Ferret wasn’t nearly as fragile as it looked. But then, it also wasn’t designed to fly after such ad hoc repairs as they had performed so far.
The turn landed him right behind one of the Drakhri. He fired off a blast from his guns, even as he had to change his direction once more. A pity that even if he hit the Kilrathi, his shields would regenerate by the time Weaver could take another shot.
“Well, look at the bright side.” He said to himself. “At least they don’t carry guided missiles.” No, but they carried dumbfires. He had had several near misses during the first moments of combat. Fortunately, they seemed to have ran out by now.
One more warning beep, as a volley of lasers punctured his rear shields. “Dammit!” He exclaimed. “Not now!” He had to make it… at least another minute.
Suddenly, a blast from the Drakhris’ guns punched far into the Ferret’s right flank. Out of the corner of his eye, Lawrence saw one of his mass driver guns had been snapped off. This broken shard of his ship was now drifting peacefully through the void. And I’ll join it if I take a few more hits, he realised.
Then, several things happened all at once. His cockpit warning equipment started screaming at him as the Kilrathi fired another well-placed volley, tearing into his engines. But within a split second, the warnings shut off, and the enemy lasers were silenced. He turned his head, to see a Drakhri veering away from a blast of mass driver bullets. All of a sudden, Weaver realised that there was a blue spot on his radar.
“Rhe’dhi?” He broadcast, unwilling to take his eyes away from the front window even for a second.
“Just me, I’m afraid.” A familiar voice replied. For a moment, Lawrence couldn’t figure out who it was.
“Colonel!” He suddenly realised. In surprise, he looked to see where Colonel Taggart was. As another blast of lasers punched into the Ferret’s shields, this brief look nearly cost him his life; but what he saw heartened him to no end. The Scimitar dove from above, veering and firing constantly at the three Drakhri. Like a hawk defending its nest, Lawrence thought.
“None other, laddie!” Paladin’s face appeared on the screen, grinning. “An’ it looks ta me like I got here just in time.”
“Not a moment too soon!” Weaver replied, turning to fire back at one of the Kilrathi ships. The other two fighters were already concentrating on the Scimitar – high time to reduce the odds.
He burnt right past the Drakhri, easily pulling up onto its tail. With the flick of a switch, Lawrence armed a heat-seeker.
“Come on laddie! Get that missile underway!” James yelled. “I can’t keep these two away much longer!”
Three… two… one… lock! Weaver quickly flicked the cap off, and pushed the button underneath. The heat-seeker raced forward, slamming right into the Kilrathi’s engines. For a brief moment, it looked as if, through some miracle, the enemy ship had survived – and then it went up in flames. Lawrence charged straight through the debris, angling towards Paladin and the other Drakhri.
“Good show, lad.” Colonel Taggart congratulated him. “But watch this!” Suddenly, the Scimitar came to a total stop, and the two Kilrathi fighters flew right past it – their pilots didn’t react fast enough. As they circled back, Paladin already had a missile on the way. The Kilrathi didn’t have time for evasives. A brief moment later, there was only one enemy fighter left. Together now, the two Confederate fighters went after him. Surprised by the sudden change of odds, the Kilrathi could only try to avoid getting hit.
But it was too late even for that, as Weaver neatly cut him off, giving Paladin a brief – but sufficient – moment to penetrate deep into the Drakhri’s rear armour. Finally, he hit the Kilrathi’s engines.
The enemy fighter’s engines suddenly cut out, leaving him coasting helplessly; the deadly war machine was now just a frisbee.
“Leave him be, laddie.” James said just as Lawrence manoeuvred for a final shot. “Let his friends pick him up – we’ve got to get out of here, now!”
All of a sudden, Weaver realised that already there was another group of Kilrathi fighters heading their way. This time there was too many to count on the tiny radar display.
“I’m on your wing, sir. Let’s burn towards the belt!”
“I thought you might see it my way.” Paladin replied with a tense smile. “Full thrust indeed!” In unison, Ferret and Scimitar accelerated to the max as they headed towards the distant asteroid belt.
For almost a minute, they flew in silence; each casting nervous glances at the radar. But the enemy wasn’t getting any closer – they were safe for now.
Then James burst out laughing. “Och, now that was fun. I guess I haven’t lost it after all.”
Lieutenant Lawrence grinned. “Where did you learn to fly like that, sir?” He asked, the image of the diving Scimitar still vivid in his mind. Like a hawk protecting its nest. “Why, you can fly with us any time!”
“Is that so?” Paladin replied, still chuckling. He sighed. “I dinna think I can though. If that lot wasn’t so focused on you when I came… perhaps neither of us would be around now.”
“But they were, and now they’re gone. Oh, thanks, by the way.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’d never let ye die. You know, back when I was still flying – regularly, that is – lads like you would often sneak into my fighter… they’d scratch out Paladin, and write Mother Hen instead!”
“Well, I can see why!” Weaver laughed – and thanked God that this protective Mother Hen was there to rescue him.


Let's hear your comments then...
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You're going too fast for me, darnabbit! So you'll have to wait for yer there.
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Too fast
? I've only got 7.5 pages so far in the next chapter... but it's growing right now
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You sure have a hand for describing dogfights, Quarto!
These descriptions are really fun to read.

This time around I even have some suggestions for corrections to be made:

1. "But I’m as near ready as I’ll ever be." - Hmm. Wouldn't "But I'm as close to ready as I'll ever be." sound better?

2. I'm not sure about this but isn't there a time/location problem?
When Weaver and Rhe'di start heading for the destroyer's alleged position the Kamekh is to stay put in the asteroid belt, right? A few lines further down you state that "they had been flying for some time now, ...." when the unidentified capship is getting into range of their radar. So, how did Paladin manage to get to Weaver's position to help him with those fighters in about two minutes? He must have taken the same route as Weaver and Rhe'di on their way out.

No one will hear your cry of death in the void of space
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Superb installment as always.

Confirmation, the Paladin in these stories looks like the WC2 era one right?(Boy head of covert ops must be a tough and stressful job if he gains so much weight in the course of about a year and a half
) Otherwise I sorta doubt he'd actually be in any shape to be flying a fighter(to either fit in one, or survive the G forces.)

I like the "honour" dillenma Rhe'dhi seemingly has/had, and how he seems to be having it like a Kilrathi, rather imposed on the old caste system, and too caught up in the outside glistenings of honour, than the actual content. Interesting how Weaver would be one to actually have a discussion about honour with Rhe'dhi, just seemed to be the type that really didn't believe in those values(and it DOES seem a bit premature for him to have THAT much faith in others restored along with a strong sense of honour or at least a fundamental grasp of thus. Though perhaps the one finds a need to belong, strings in the one who decided belonging was no longer nessessary changes him a bit, and while he's at it the one who needs to belong finds it's not THAT important to belong to an old system?, the two characters seem to compliment eachother very nicely.)

I guess I didn't post any comments, since I really couldn't find enough time to sit down and think through and absorb the story.

Sheesh maybe I SHOULD get back to work on developing "Coolhand" and his friends for the XWA WCTC, with the universe itself having a few differences from the "canon" one.
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Nighthawk: Actually, I wasn't particularly impressed with this dogfight
. My favourite one was the one with the two Gothri.
1. Maybe... I'll think about it.
2. Right, well I can see how that would be confusing, but it's actually quite correct. Let me explain. When you fly a patrol or a scouting mission (which is essentially what this was, since they weren't certain what they'd find), you fly slowly, so you won't miss that little red blip that appeared on your radar for a split second
. Also, not knowing what they'd find, they were flying a roundabout course; only logical when you're in an enemy system. In fact, the edge of the asteroid belt was only about 80,000 from the location of the destroyer. Paladin, on his way there had to pick through the asteroid belt, but after that, he could fly all the way on afterburners; thus, the 80,000 would have only taken him about a minute (+ another minute for the rocks), at his speed of 1200kps. Of course, Paladin flew straight rather than roundabout - a risk he had to take. So, does that seem fair enough?

Nob: Yep, it's the WC 2 Paladin
. Indeed, one can only wonder when he gained all that weight, but certainly, he wouldna fit in the fighter's seat if it was the WC 3 Paladin

Right, now about Weaver. It's not that he doesn't believe in honour; rather, he became disillusioned by the seeming lack of such values in the people around him; the Javelin incident of course is what really got to him. Note how he didn't resign, but requested a transfer to test piloting. He is, in spite of everything, a patriot and he'd like to be able to trust others; his mistake was in assuming that it's too dangerous to trust anyone.
You may have noticed that he's got some knowledge of the Kilrathi culture - he found himself drawn to it because it is so honour based. He sees the value of loyalty and honour in the Kilrathi society. But he's not Kilrathi, he's Human. So, he also sees the value of free choice and so on that is so pervasive in Human society (any particular Earth culture, even the ones labelled as authoritarian have such values in there somewhere). And this allows him to reinterpret the Kilrathi values in a different way. The thing about honour, is that by itself it quickly becomes very rigid; eventually, it becomes an empty shell. Most still believe in it, but others merely exploit it (the Emperor) to their own ends. The Kilrathi rebellion was a reaction to this, but they made the mistake of still trying to cling to the same old value. Hence their dilemma.
And yes, what you wrote in the last two or three sentences about the need to belong is along the right lines. So, I hope that makes things a bit clearer.
Anyway, thanks for the comments
. It's never too late to start

I'll read any story you'd like to post, but what do you mean by XWA WCTC?
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Lemme guess: XWA WCTC is X-Wing Alliance Wing Commander Total Conversion?

12 pages you say? Well, let the pickings begin!
I'll number comments this time, but I'm going to be a little cryptic - it's more fun.

1. >before his day was finally over. But it had already been a long and stressful day,< - Has it only been one day?

2. >wondered aloud< - Sounded odd when spoken I thought.

3. I just thought of something. Cats sleep a lot, regardless of size - so why doesn't this apply to Kilrathi?

4. >displaying his very much feral-looking teeth.< - Eck! Very too much.

5. >you’ll get a few hours’ rest after this flight.< - Questionable apostrophe...

6. >The Krak’ni’hra be helping with flak cannons,< - Interesting. Friendly fire?

7. >a lot of lives are depending on us.< - Ach, le'rrn t' speek th' lang'ydg lad!

8. >“Sir, what we find the destroyer and Kilrathi ships as well?”< - What if?

9. >But if you can hold the attackers off until I can get the Krak’ni’hra into position…”< - Wishful thinking. Looks like somebody took one energy pill too many.

10. >pushed him towards the door.< - I get the feeling Paladin likes to push people around.

* * *
11. >one-twenty percent.< - More emphasis in one-hundred and twenty.

12. >After what seemed like ages, but in reality was perhaps a half-second,< -*yawn*

13. >This wasn’t as exciting as fighting the Kilrathi… but it wasn’t as dangerous either.< - Granted. Even if rocks pose a threat.
* * *
14. >“Colonel, I don’t suppose these count as kills?”< - Heh.

15. >James threw in.< - Bond. James Bond.

16. >And on board the Kamekh,< - I have nothing against starting a sentence with and, but only if it fits.

17. >He had no choice; he had to send them.< - Easy on the semi-colons...Just when you got your en-dashes under control too.

* * *
18. >The effects of the pill were running out,< - Running out of wearing off?

19. >drifting into sleep again.< - Hmm. Into...To...Off... Aw heck, just leave it be.

20. >The Kilrathi asked sleepily.< - Has anyone ever seen a Kilrathi yawn?

21. >As he talked,< - Don't know why, but spoke.

22. >never far from his mind. And Javelin wasn’t either.< - How about "never far from his mind - and neither was Javelin?"

23. >I am – not was – studying the Kilrathi.< - He is? And there I thought he was all out of spare time.

24. >“Outside the law, outside the society?”< - Skip the second.

25. >to abandon the Empire…< - The Empire was their's to abandon.

26. >“Tho avhoidh dishonorr, whe dishon’rrd h’oursselhvess.”< - Uh...okay. Is this what you call Kilrathi logic?

27. >He’d been right then.< - 'ds are my pet hate.

28. >And he wasn't the only one with daemons to exorcise< - That's becoming a habit. And demons need exercise.

29. >“And is there dishonour then, in trying to save the Kilrathi race?”< - You lost me there.

30. I believe hrai is written without a capital.

31. >And perhaps this is all necessary?< - And perhaps all this is necessary?

32. >They fell silent, each deep in his own thoughts.< - Just like when they each found a headless chicken in their locker.

* * *
33. >They had been flying for some time now, and were approaching the position of the destroyer. All around them was totally empty vacuum – even the stars seemed to be further away than usual.< -
That's so disfunct it requires no comment.

34. >Could it be that the smuggler was telling the truth?< - So you did find a word for out mystery man.

35. >His instinct was saying otherwise. But instinct could be wrong.< - Ick.

36. >“Ah grray blip!”< - LOL! A Kilrathi saying "Blip!" ROFL! even.

37. >reach much further than human eyes.< - That's on the brink of silly.

38. >Less than four hundred metres.< - Is the repetition justified?

39. >Something wasn’t right.< - Either that, or something was wrong.

40. >grey blips appeared< + >the three grey blips< + >several smaller blips< - Too many blips.

41. >He quickly crossed the gap between himself and Rhe’dhi,< - I belive it's called closing the gap.

42. >they were closing fast.< + >The fighters were rapidly closing.< - On second thought...

43. >vampire bats, their wings glistening with blood.< - Now who's overdoing it?

44. >It will take some hard flying.< - Would it?

45. >got him several hundred metres behind the enemy ship.< - "Got him within several hundred meters of the enemy ship?"

46. >the distance between the two ships was two hundred metres.< - Perhaps "the distance between the two ships narrowed to two hundred metres."

47. >the Sartha class was actually quite slow – Confed had heavies that were faster.< - You've mentioned this before...elsewhere.

48. >“You are nothing but a sa’guk!”< - Hmm, since he's talking to more than one, I'd lose the a, though it could be a direct strike tactic.

49. >taunts< - Well, I never thought you'd get around to those.

50. >“Rhe’dhi!”< - LOL! I'm sure he is...ready.

51. >one after the other.< - After another.
* * *
52. >Then, several things happened all at once.< - Perhaps the element of surprise would work better.

53. >high time to reduce the odds.< - Haven't you had enough of reducing the odds? How about turning the tables instead?

54. >a total stop,< - Usually it's a complete stop...usually.

55. >the deadly war machine was now just a frisbee.< - LOL! Though the reverse is also true.

Nicely ended off with some light-hearted humour. I agree about this not being the best dogfight, but it conveyed well the feeling of endurance. However, I would have liked to see Weaver more concerned about his fuel usage. The transitions were smoother this time and though the first half of the chapter seemed rather rough, you obviously got into the flow of things later. I wonder how they'll outsmart the Kilrathi forces?
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Very good Quarto, and it took me more than five minutes to read unlike the other chapters.
How many chapters are you planing to write anyhow?

Now, something that is realy unrealistic IMO. How could Palading get to Weaver in about two minutes and save his sorry ass? I like the Scim, unlike some people, but I'll have to admit, it is slow. Two minutes sounds a little too short for Paladin to get to his fighter, launch and fly through the rocks.

“I dho nhath khanth sstonss.”

Nothing better than a cat with a sense of humor (other than a pilosophical cat that is, or better yet, a cat riding a horse
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As many as it takes, Earthworm

I've already explained that Paladin flew on afterburners. A Scim has enough for three or four minutes of constant burn. The Kamekh was actually able to get pretty close to the destroyer's location (in case they'd need to ferry the survivors quick-time) thanks to the asteroid belt. But you may have a point about getting to his fighter and launching though. I'll look into that. That's the problem with working on a tight schedule
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What the... oh, you are sneaky, Matrix
. I didn't even notice yer comments.

1. I believe you are forgetting that in the real universe, the term "day" is fairly insignificant and can be interpreted in many ways. In this case, Weaver is interpreting "day" as "the time since he last slept".
2. Oh, all right.
3. Cats take naps a lot. This means that whenever you wake a cat up, s/he's full of energy (and ready to bite off the hand of the insolent Human that dared disturb his sleep
). Anyway, a race that sleeps 4/5ths of the day and eats through the remaining 1/5th, is not going to develop a space-faring civilisation
4. Well, much sounded right when I wrote it, but I can see your point.
5. So I thought, but it seems correct. Even the accursed Word grammar checker isn't complaining. So, it stays.
6. Flak cannons are very useful for blowing up asteroids; particularly since the point is not so much to destroy it as it is to change its course.
7. 'Thiss fhinh the whay ith iss, lhaddhie
8. Whoops.
9. Could be... maybe Paladin is just saying that for the sake of morale <lifts eyebrow>? Of course, you have to keep in mind that it's not a puny little Drayman we're talking about here. It's a Gilgamesh class destroyer; these things eat Fralthra for breakfast, and Ralatha for lunch. And they have phase shields, which means that Weaver & Co. would only have to shoot down torps. Everything else short of capship guns would bounce off.
10. Yeah, he can be pretty pushy
11. Agreed.
12. Hmm... I did use that phrase before, haven't I? All right. Maybe Weaver's too impatient sometimes. I'll see about figuring something out.
13. Of course rocks pose a threat. Get someone to throw one at you, and you'll see
16. True. I cut it out.
17. True, an en-dash will work better here <big grin>.
18. Point well taken.
20. Not that I know off
. That might be a disturbing sight.
21. Yes, I like.
22. I see you're getting the hang of the -'s
. Ok.
23. Yes, isn't it fortunate I can have my characters do things I have no time for?

24. Hmm... ok.
25. That's a negatory. Theirs seems to imply that they created it, or that they owned it.
26. Who said Kilrathi logic was logical? And who said Human logic is any better?
27. That's just too bad
28. That actually depends. Daemon is a different version of spelling, but just as correct. In fact, it's the older version, and perhaps more correct. Maybe there has been a revival of proper spelling in the 27th century?
29. Seek and you shall find
30. Yes, I see thou art correct.
31. Is that necessary
? Well, all right.
32. I don't know if that's correct, but it gets the point across far better the way it is. No change.
33. Ah. I probably wrote it at 0300
. It sounded kinda poetic then... hmm... >They had been flying for some time now. We must be getting close to the destroyer… yet there was only vacuum around them – even the stars were somehow more distant than was usually the case.< - Go ahead. Start complaining about confusing transition from thoughts to narrative
34. I'm not sure if you're implying that I should change it back, but it stays.
35. >His instinct was screaming that that was impossible. But instinct could be wrong.< - Is better, methinks.
36. One learns to speak by listening to others. Weaver says blip often enough. But I'll change it to "bhlyp", methinks.
37. I've changed "human" to "their". It sounds much better. And it stays.
38. Yep, I think it is.
39. All right.
40. Used "spots" and "dots" instead.
41. True.
42. No, that seems ok. The two phrases aren't that similar. They just mean the same thing, is all.
43. I'm being descriptive
44. I suppose.
45. Yes, agreed. The first one sounds like he's falling behind, non?
46. Ok.
47. I did? Yes, probably; when I was complaining about how the WC 2 manual is filled with errors <the Sartha's speed turned out to be correct, btw; it is 400kps>. I didn't mention it in the story though.
48. He's broadcasting to them all, but he wants the Kilrathi to think he's talking to each one individually; a personal insult is more insulting.
You forget. Weaver had his comms shut off throughout the first fight, and the second fight was much too short.
50. Believe it or not, that's actually where his name comes from
. But I rather liked it, so it stayed as it was.
51. Agreed.

[20 minutes later]
I have just returned from the student feeding grounds. The cooks have done exceedingly well today... they shall be spared.

52. Maybe, but I think this works pretty well.
53. Ok.
54. Ok.
55. LOL!

Fuel usage? If a Ferret pilot is concerned about fuel usage, he won't be coming home. A Ferret spends most of its working life flying on afterburners. Heh... tell that to a zoologist
It's not all that easy to find a Kamekh in an asteroid belt... hmm... particularly if you read Kamekh as "kamyk"

BTW, I've adjusted the schedule slightly. Paladin now takes three minutes to show up. And that really is realistic; one minute to launch, one minute for the belt, and one minute to burn through the void.
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There were 55 comments! How could you not notice?

1. Uh, it was a cryptic one. I was refering to the use of the word "days."
3. Yes, nice 16 hour naps.

5. Well I was wondering myself as I had seen it written that way before.
7. Since when does Paladin purr?

9. Hmm, maybe I was too cryptic. How could the Krak'ni'hra just quickly pull out of the asteroid, belt
12. I don't think you used it before, just seemed over done.
20. I think it'd be cute.

22. Huh? What's 's got to do with it? But yes, I think I am improving.
25. Point.
27. I only mentioned that one (out of about four) cause it really stuck out.
28. I know that it just a different spelling, it was a joke. Deamon is used the 20th C. But you were supposed to remove the leading and.
29. See what I mean? Ignore, Abort, Retry...
32. AFAIK it's correct. I was just pointing out the similarity to my lockers sentence.
33. Okay then, but rather than complain I suggest, "They had been flying for some time now, and were near(ing) the destroyer's position. Yet there was only vacuum around them – even the stars were somehow more distant."
34. No, don't change it. I was refering to a comment on the previous chapter. And I made a typo. It was meant to be "our man."
35. Er, "His instict told him otherwise - but instincts could be misleading." or stick with the original.
37. Human was fine, but how far do your eyes reach? Far enough to touch the screen?
38. Just checking.
39. So nothing was wrong?

42. Well it's your call. I was just pointing out the possible conflict.
45. Actually it felt like he was going backwards.

47. You are quite correct...not in the story.
48. So a tactic it is.
49. No fight is too short for taunts!

I'm really am surprised about those cooks...since you only like salted bread.

And yes...Ferrets are particularly hyper where far flung Khamek's are involved.
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7. He's an intelligence officer. He has to know how to purr.

9. By firing off several hundred rounds of flak, of course. They didn't do too much of that on the way in, since they had Weaver and Rhe'dhi out there; after all, they would only have a certain amount of flak rounds on board.
12. How's this? >After several seconds of impatience, the Krak’ni’hra’s grapples finally released [...]<
20. I wonder what a dentist might think
28. I'd rather keep the and than begin two consecutive sentences with he.
33. Ok, I can agree with that.
35. This is all because you're so cryptic
. Ok.
37. It's a figure of speech. But if you insist, I've changed eyes to eyesight.
39. Huh? I did say ok.
49. "No sacrifice is too great for my Empire." Yes, I know that had nothing to do with the subject. But the sentence construction was very similar, so it sorta sprang to mind (at 0236, that happens). That's Khajja the Fang's death phrase, btw. Then again, you've probably heard it by now.

Which makes the cooks' situation more precarious, does it not?
Seriously though, I've grown past that stage a significant amount of time ago.
Do you think a Ferret might be able to fetch a Kamekh back though?

[This message has been edited by Quarto (edited March 11, 2000).]
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Pretty cool. Wish I could write dogfights as good as yours. It feels like we're getting to the end, eh? Anyway, keep it up, Quarto. Looking forward to reading more.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
To the end? <laughs> Oh, no. You're not getting rid of me that easily
. They've still got a few things left to do... like escape with their lives
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7. Diplomacy training at the academy: "On the count of three, I want to hear you all pur."

9. Eh, I still don't like the idea...but it's your story.
10. Much better.
20. "My what kitty breath you have."

28. He he he. Gotcha!
35. Well I have no intention of writing the thing for you.
39. I know you said okay. I was just checking.

56. Huh? What do you mean there's no 56!?

As for the Ferret, nope.
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7. "Uh... Academy, we're reading some unusual vibrations in your sector. What's your status, over?"