Chapter XI - Things Fall Apart


Unknown Enemy
Here we go again. Didn't keep you waiting that long this time round, eh?
Of course, this means that you'll have to wait a bit longer for the next chapter, but I'm sure you're used to it by now
I'm reasonably satisfied with this chapter - both the content, and the title. However, I reserve the usual right to change the title if something better comes to mind - though this one does describe things fairly well.


XI. Things Fall Apart.
Terry stared in dismay as the Ferret fled into the asteroid belt. He was alone again, and the two Kilrathi fighters were closing in.
He frowned. This had happened before; he was certain of it. Or was it just déjà vu? But there was no time to think – the two Dralthi were homing in on him, getting closer… always closer.
Lawrence pulled a hard turn as the enemy ships were upon him; laser blasts were all around, striking indiscriminately across his ship. Tearing savagely into his armour, his engines – everything.
Then he saw the other fighter. Far away, on the very edge of his vision, there was the unmistakable silhouette of a Broadsword.
“Come on, help me!” Lawrence yelled into the comms. But suddenly, the Broadsword disappeared into the gaping maw of a jump tunnel, leaving him all alone…
“Weaver? Dammit, answer me!”
He blinked; the Dralthi, the asteroid belt – it all disappeared. Terry shook his head violently, looking around the strange cockpit. This wasn’t a Ferret, he suddenly realised.
“Weaver? Wake up!” The comm system blared again, and he saw Paladin’s face on the screen.
“What?” At last, Lawrence answered. As the last vestiges of the dream faded, he finally remembered where he was. He looked out the starboard window, and saw the Broadsword some distance away to the side.
“I know you’re tired, but the cockpit is no place to sleep, lad.” Colonel Taggart admonished him. “You’re drifting off course.”
“Sorry, sir.” Weaver answered, adjusting his heading. The Scimitar’s ancient computer system had a few glitches as a result of damaged circuits. One such glitch was the autopilot’s tendency to drift off course when left uncorrected for long periods of time. “How much longer?” Lawrence asked wearily.
“An hour.” Paladin answered. Having forced Rhe’dhi to go eat something and perhaps get some sleep, he was taking his turn piloting the Broadsword. Not that there was much piloting to be done as they fled straight towards the jump point. “In an hour, we’ll be in Confed territory.”
“Unless the Kilrathi have already taken Morpheus.” Terry answered gloomily. The destruction of the Krak’ni’hra had a noticeably depressing effect on all of them. Whereas before, they had felt relatively safe even in the middle of enemy territory, Weaver was certain that now he wouldn’t feel safe until his Scimitar was touching down onboard a Confederate capital ship. Preferably, with no enemy presence within several million klicks.
“Nay, laddie.” James replied with a grim smile. “Confed will not withdraw from Morpheus. Not without a hard fight, at least – it’s just too vital, if we’re to take Goddard and the rest of the Deneb sector back.”
“Well… they’d better not abandon it. Not while we’re here, anyway.” Weaver told him. After the jump to Morpheus, their fighters would certainly be short on fuel – indeed, the Scimitar would already be running low even before the jump. Which makes me wonder if I’ll have enough to jump in the first place, Terry thought. But like Paladin said, they could always abandon the Scim at the jump point. The Broadsword’s tractor beam was still working, and they could reel Weaver in if he ejected. That is, if they would get to the jump point. That destroyer would have probably alerted every ship in the system by now.
There wasn’t much else to be said, and so they flew on in silence. Lawrence yawned, and looked out the window. Stars. Nothing else. Not that he really wanted to see anything else… except maybe a nice, big, Confed spacecraft carrier. With a proper bed… or at least one of those annoyingly narrow bunks that prevailed on most military vessels. And a warm meal. Yes, warm food would definitely be nice. He had eaten right after they jumped into Epsilon; but that seemed to have been so many hours ago… and it wasn’t really a proper meal anyway.
He frowned. Well, it looks like we don’t really need to worry about fuel after all, he thought ruefully. We’ll starve first. Paladin would have probably had the presence of mind to grab something from the Krak’ni’hra’s mess hall before evacuating – but there was five of them squashed into the Broadsword, so their rations wouldn’t be too generous. And either way, Weaver had no food whatsoever aboard the Scim. At least there is water, he concluded – for a small tank of water was usually attached to the ejection seat, and connected directly to the pilot’s suit. One could last without food for many days – harrowing though it may be – but without liquid, death came very quickly. If it hadn’t been for that tank of water, many a Confed pilot would have died a thirsty death while awaiting rescue.
“And there I go again.” Terry said with a bitter smile. “All those negative thoughts… hell, maybe things will go fine this time.”
“What was that?” James asked, for Weaver had forgot to shut off the comm link.
“Huh? Oh, nothing. I was just thinking out loud.”
Paladin gave him a ‘cheer-up’ smile. “Everything will go just fine; you’ll see. What you really should be thinking about is what you’ll do after this mission.”
Lawrence frowned. He didn’t realise he had a choice. Then again, this had all happened so quickly – a routine transfer, the message from Admiral Tolwyn said. He nodded. Yeah, this is where routine transfers will get you. Into the cockpit of a decrepit old fighter, struggling to get out of an enemy-controlled system.
But what did the Admiral have in plans for him after this? Terry was supposed to be a test pilot – or has that changed now? I had switched away from combat flying because of Javelin… has that changed? He looked out the window, towards the Broadsword. Rhe’dhi had been a good wingman; so had Colonel Taggart. Then again, they were just two people – not everyone could be like them. But… Burkheimer and Hharak – though he didn’t fly with either, they both seemed like good people.
So? Had I been wrong to jump to conclusions about… well, about the rest of the Human race? Maybe – but then there’s Browning. And Javelin. And the rest of the Mandarins. Or are they not worthy of our attention? He half-grinned, half-snarled – an oddly Kilrathi-like expression. They are sa’guk. Pathetic outcasts, who had betrayed one side without even gaining true acceptance from the other.
Well… it would be nice to see if there are other… proper… people out there, he finally decided. Again, he wondered how many opportunities to meet righteous people he had missed during his time at Krieger. All those years, and I don’t remember a single name. Simply because I didn’t want to know. After all, there had never been anything really wrong with my memory. He grinned. The commander at Krieger had refused to understand that. Consequently, in his second week there, Weaver ended up getting a visit from the medics, and then from the psychiatrist. It took them several weeks of studies, tests, and observations to finally conclude what Lawrence could have told them right at the start – that there was absolutely nothing physically wrong with his brain. If he didn’t remember names, it was just because he didn’t want to.
And now, do I want to?
* * *
Colonel Taggart jumped up as a clawed paw gently tapped him on the shoulder.
“Ach!” He exclaimed, turning his head. It was Rhe’dhi. “It’s you! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Who dhidh yho thinkh ith kholdh hhav bheen?” The Kilrathi asked, obviously amused by James’ reaction. The man who had gone out in an obsolete craft to save his pilot from overwhelming odds, jumped at a mere touch.
“Ye na’er can know, lad.” Paladin replied slightly defensively. His nerves had been more than high-strung since they had abandoned the Krak’ni’hra. After all, it wouldn’t take much to stop their two battered ships. “Browning might have gotten out of his little cage.”
Rhe’dhi grinned fiercely. “Hhe khannhath lheev the h’airr lokh.” The Kilrathi told him. The Broadsword bomber had a small airlock, designed to keep ejected pilots safe – hostile pilots in particular, since a friendly one could be allowed into the main cabin. The airlock – though comfortable enough when one had a thermally regulated vacuum suit on, wasn’t exactly the warmest place onboard. If, after this flight, Pete Browning would lodge a complaint regarding his treatment as a prisoner of war, he would actually have a good case – that is, if anyone would listen to him. Not that his latest ‘accommodation’ was their fault – with two turrets out of commission, the Broadsword’s main cabin was rather cramped even without him. Besides, they certainly had no reason to trust a Mandarin.
“No, he can’t, can he?” James acknowledged. “So, what was it that you wanted?”
Rhe’dhi pointed at the flightstick. “I whish tho fhly.” He told him. Paladin had only taken over the pilot’s seat an hour ago, and Rhe’dhi was supposed to still be resting. But by some cruel irony, while Weaver had trouble staying awake in the cockpit, the Kilrathi simply couldn’t force himself to sleep even now, when he was no longer piloting the Broadsword.
“But you’ve been flying all day, lad!” Paladin pointed out.
“Bekhoss,” Rhe’dhi paused for a second. “Bekhoss I h’am yhangh enhogh tho fhly.” Which was quite true, and perhaps this was the reason for the Kilrathi’s restlessness. He knew that James was just as tired as he was – but older. During the last few days, Rhe’dhi had gained a lot of respect for this Human’s abilities – as well as their limits. “Bhesidhs… yho arr hhurth.” The Kilrathi added, pointing to the cuts and bruises that Paladin had obtained onboard the Krak’ni’hra.
Colonel Taggart smiled wanly. “That’s not fair! But, you got me there, I’m afraid.” He quickly unbuckled the seat belts and moved out of the way, so that the Kilrathi could sit down. Which Rhe’dhi did all too promptly for James’ liking.
“Well… I guess I’ll leave you to it.” Paladin told him, moving reluctantly towards the door leading into the main section of the cabin. “But what am I supposed to do in the meantime?” He asked, while waiting for the automatic door to open.
“Shleeph.” Rhe’dhi replied with a slight grin to indicate his doubts about that option. “Therr iss nhathingh ehlss to do. Thath… iss why I’hm hheer.” The Kilrathi finished, indicating the cockpit with a gesture.
Paladin sighed. “Just be sure to tell us if something happens.”
“I hhoph thath whill nhath bhe nheedhed.”
“So do I, laddie. So do I.” James told him, closing the door as he left.
* * *
Weaver looked about the cockpit irritably, realising that he had nearly fallen asleep again. Fortunately, after being woken up by Paladin, he had set his flight computer to beep loudly every five minutes. So far, it had been enough. But the monotony of the motionless stars beyond the windows was getting to him. Five intense dogfights – each seemingly worse than the one before – squeezed into such a short period of time, had taken their toll. For the first time since… since he had joined the Academy, Lieutenant Terry Lawrence was tired of flying. Tired of the endless reaches of space right outside his cockpit. Tired of struggling with the controls of a battered old fighter that looked like it belonged in a scrap yard.
Just bloody tired.
But he couldn’t leave the cockpit, nor could he stop flying. He grinned half-heartedly. The irony was that after – if – they made it back… two or three days of rest, and he’d be itching to get back out there again. But exactly where would ‘out there’ be? He frowned, as another thought occurred to him. There were many assignments that he could be given. But what about the Kilrathi? Lawrence had never heard anyone explain exactly what their status was while serving Confed, but certainly the loss of their vessel did not bode well for them.
“Rhe’dhi?” He spoke into the comm. “Where do you think you and Hharak will be sent, after this? I mean… your ship was destroyed.”
“I hhoph thath whe shall bhe senth bakh to K’arakh. I h’amh prroudh to sserv the Khonfhed’rrashion – evhen ihf iht khosst uss h’ourr shiph. Bhat… whith Denebh ssektorr thakhen, the Emphire whill trry to thaekh En’highma ssektorr aghain… and K’arakh whill hhav to fhight, ihf whe arr tho sstayh fhree.”
Weaver considered that – as well as what the Kilrathi didn’t quite say outright. Confed HQ wouldn’t mind sending the two Kilrathi back home, or for that matter any other Kilrathi from the rebel systems. But to send them spacecraft, and weapons… that would be another story altogether. He could just imagine the reaction when – if – somebody brought it up: why defend a bunch of cats, when we’re fighting to keep the rest of them off us? Weaver snorted. Confed HQ had lately become almost draconian in their resource management. The research base at Krieger had taken the full brunt of these new policies, with their sudden cutbacks of budgets and development time – but no cutback of responsibilities. Apparently, human lives were far less valuable than cash, considering how many young pilots had died testing unfinished equipment. Undoubtedly, such sacrifices would also be asked – or rather, demanded – of the Kilrathi systems that had joined the Confederation. What little equipment they had been given would be nothing compared to what they would lose in the fight ahead.
“Weaver?” Suddenly, Rhe’dhi asked.
“Yeah?” Weaver immediately became alert – Rhe’dhi’s voice had clearly indicated trouble.
“I hhav radharr khontakht, behindh uss. Three shmallh tharghetss.”
“Well, damn it all!” Terry replied. “How far away is the jump point? Can we outrun them?”
He waited in silence, as the Broadsword’s flight computer calculated the ETAs.
Finally, Rhe’dhi spoke. “Ith iss ssevhen mhinytss ahway.” He paused. “Ahndh they whill khatch aph ihn three.”
Seven minutes! Weaver looked in surprise at his own nav console, as if expecting it to contradict his Kilrathi wingmate. As long as the voyage had seemed, it was nearly over… if not for the enemy fighters. Seven minutes – and three. So, they would have no choice but to fight – their last battle in Epsilon, one way or another.
Suddenly, Lieutenant T E Lawrence was filled with wrath. The convoy was one thing, but this… this was too much. With a mere seven minutes left, the Kilrathi were still trying to stop them? Not a chance, he decided. Their ships may have been damaged, and they themselves may be exhausted, but one thing was certain – the enemy would not find them an easy target. Not now, not with salvation just seven minutes away.
“Let’s continue as though we didn’t see them, Rhe’dhi. But only until they’re close enough – then I intend to turn around and fry them. We’re too close to go down now.”
The Kilrathi grinned. “Mhy thoghtss, thoo.”
With the flick of a switch, Rhe’dhi activated the contact alert in the main cabin. Momentarily, the door behind him opened, and Paladin charged in. Talon and Hharak stayed at the door, since there was no more space in the tiny cockpit.
“What’s goin’ on, lad?” Colonel Taggart demanded, craning his head to see the radar over the Kilrathi pilot’s shoulder.
“Khontakht.” Rhe’dhi told him simply.
“I shall thaekh the tharreth.” Hharak told them, and disappeared back into the main cabin.
“Right. You do that.” Paladin agreed, hardly noticing that the Kilrathi was already gone. “And I… och, dammit!” He exclaimed, suddenly realising that there was absolutely nothing that he could help with.
Rhe’dhi turned to face him. “Yho shall hhav tho thrasth uss onss morr… Khantar.”
James smiled. It was the first time that either Kilrathi had acknowledged that he was in command – previously, the term ‘Khantar’ – the commanding officer on a ship – was used only for Hharak. This show of respect restored him to balance; and reminded him of something else he’d been planning to discuss with Hharak.
“Very well. Carry on, Third Fang.”
“Fourth Fang.” Rhe’dhi corrected him, seeming surprised that the Colonel would make such a mistake.
Paladin gave him an odd look. “For now.” He said as he left the cockpit.
Back in the main cabin, he quickly sat down next to Captain Burkheimer, strapping himself into the seat. Theirs was perhaps the most dangerous position on board; the turrets and the cockpit were equipped with ejection mechanisms. But no such mechanisms were viable in the main cabin – not without sacrificing hull integrity. Thus it was that the designers of the ship decided that the passengers on a Broadsword would simply have to rely on its other defences, as well as the escort to protect them. Talon grinned nervously at him. Both escort and defences were rather thin this time round.
“We’ll make it.” James told him, though he didn’t feel all too convinced of that himself. Rhe’dhi and Weaver were both skilled pilots, but there were limits even to their skills. And while they were fighting, all he could do was sit and wait.
“Dammit, I hate this!” The Colonel exclaimed, pounding the armrest with his fist. “We can’t even see the enemy!”
Captain Burkheimer smiled bitterly. Neither see, nor hear, nor feel – at least as long as the shields were up. If the shields were to go down, they would most definitely hear and feel the results. This amounted to nothing less than sheer torture for trained pilots – to see and hear nothing until there was an emergency, and then not even being able to react to it. “I know what you mean, sir.” He sighed. “Of course, I might as well get used to this, eh? My fighting career is over.”
“You should know better than that, lad.” James admonished him. “Haven’t you learned anything during these last two trips of ours? You don’t need to be in the cockpit to fight.”
Talon looked at him speculatively. “Yeah, I noticed that. But what do I do now?”
“Simple. Join me in Special Ops, Jeff.” Paladin told him. “For now, you’d be helping be on the Bonnie Heather… or…” James grinned, “whatever else I happen to be using. But eventually, you would undoubtedly get to command your own ship.” His grin widened, as he saw Talon’s eyes light up. “Yes, your own ship. You’re a skilled officer, and your knowledge of Kilrathi would make you indispensable to us.” He concluded, pronouncing ‘indispensable’ slowly, syllable by syllable.
“My own ship…” Jeffrey whispered. Not a fighter, perhaps, but his own ship nonetheless – even if he’d have to wait a few years for it, it would be worth it. “You’ll help me secure the transfer?”
“Of course!” Paladin told him. “I asked ye to join me, didn’t I? We’ll get ye transferred as soon as we get back…”
He didn’t finish the sentence, for suddenly all conversation became impossible. The shield breach alarms went off, their whining sound filling the cabin.
The two officers instinctively started looking around, as if expecting to be able to see through the ship’s skin. But they saw nothing; and they felt nothing, since the Broadsword’s stabilisers were cushioning the motion as efficiently as ever. But the Kilrathi were out there, they knew…
* * *
“I’m on him, Rhe’dhi! But be careful, the other’s still going after you… shit!”
“I s’hee hheem!” Rhe’dhi’s voice replied.
Hharak twisted the turret in the other direction, where the Drakhri would most likely appear. Now that the Broadsword’s rear shields were down, the enemy would undoubtedly try to destroy the last turret. Certainly, that was what Hharak would have done.
There were only three Drakhri, all told. But their ferocity had surprised them. The clash of the five vessels was one of fury in its purest form. They must kill us, for what we did to their home base, Hharak thought, and we must kill them to break out of this system. We cannot retreat, and they will not retreat.
There! The rust-coloured form of the Drakhri came zooming out from behind the Broadsword, turning to fire upon Hharak’s position. Hharak responded automatically, pushing down the trigger and grinning as he saw his blasts – accurate, as always – strike against his opponent’s shields. He held down the trigger, for the crackling display of light told him that the Drakhri’s shields would give out in a matter of seconds.
But the Drakhri wasn’t giving in. His laser cannons riveted the Broadsword’s flank with a line of charred holes – and the line was rapidly approaching the turret.
And still, Hharak fired the powerful neutron guns, striking the enemy fighter mercilessly. It didn’t matter what Weaver and Rhe’dhi were doing with the other two fighters – this was Hharak’s battle. Just one, two more shots!
Suddenly, one of the laser blasts shattered through the turret’s reinforced window. Had it not been for the seat belts, Hharak surely would have been sucked out through the hole. He breathed deeply from his suit’s air supply, and adjusted his aim to match the Kilrathi fighter’s movements. Even as the Drakhri itself collapsed into a fireball, another laser struck, destroying the turret’s guns. Hharak screamed with joy, not concerned about the loss of his weapon. He had scored another kill.
Then his eyes widened. Something was swiftly moving out of the explosion. It was a missile, charging straight towards the unprotected flank of the Broadsword. The Drakhri’s parting shot was no mere laser blast.
Time ground down to a halt for Hharak, as he realised what would happen in a matter of seconds. He looked towards the ejection handle… no. This was a time for duty and… honour.
In one smooth move, he drew the hand laser that had never left his side. He had always been a good marksman – now he must be a perfect one. Somewhere behind him, the comm system was filled with frantic chatter, but he didn’t try to understand even a word.
It took him perhaps a half-second to aim, sticking the gun out through the hole in the window. The missile was close now – too close.
He fired. The tiny bolt of searing light struck the tip of the missile, detonating it even as it got within thirty metres of the Broadsword. The vast outburst of the missile’s exploding charge mushroomed out towards the ponderous bomber – towards Hharak.
“Ek’rah skabak erg Nak’tara!” Hharak shouted triumphantly. Then the great wave of heat smashed up against the turret, and he was no more.
* * *
It took Rhe’dhi a good few seconds to stabilise the ship again; then there was no time to consider what other effects the explosion might have had. It was a miracle that the Broadsword was still intact, and a miracle to be thankful for. Rhe’dhi had no time to consider Hharak’s last words and what they signified – or was it perhaps that he understood, but was too numb to truly comprehend?
Whatever the reason, Rhe’dhi felt no grief. All he felt was utter, implacable fury. He didn’t understand the fury, either. But couldn’t resist his subconscious. So he turned towards his other assailant, firing the Broadsword’s triple mass drivers until the gun battery had run dry of energy, and then some more. At last, the Drakhri’s engines exploded, tearing the fighter into shreds of metal.
“Oh, you son of a… Rhe’dhi! I need help!” Weaver suddenly exclaimed, and Rhe’dhi automatically turned to see what was wrong.
The Scimitar was twisting and turning, as the streams of laser fire rained down from above. The plainly visible crackling of the old fighter’s shields was what cooled off Rhe’dhi’s blood completely, allowing him to think. Within seconds, the Scimitar would be defenceless.
He turned, readying his last missile. It was of the friend-or-foe type that needed no time to lock. But even as the missile sped forward, he realised that it would get there too late; for the Drakhri had himself fired a missile.
The two missiles struck almost simultaneously – the first sent the Drakhri spinning out of control, and the second crashing down on top of the Scimitar in an explosion of such violence that for a moment, Rhe’dhi thought the ship itself exploded.
But it didn’t. A split second later, the Scimitar emerged from the explosion, charred and mangled but still alive. With a sigh of relief, Rhe’dhi turned again upon the fighter that had so nearly destroyed his wingman. Mercilessly, he fired a volley into the spinning fighter until it ceased to exist in a brief but brilliant fireball.
* * *
Weaver pounded the dashboard in frustration. “Come on, you piece of junk! Work!”
The ship’s computer gave another one of those odd spurts of sound that indicated that the power plant was attempting to restart the engines, yet failing.
Again, Terry’s fist came down on top of the computer in irrational anger. His ship’s engines had given out, and he could do nothing about it. One more thump.
He raised his fist again… and halted it in mid-strike, staring at the screen in surprise. Operation successful. Power to engines has been re-routed.
Figures. What better way to fix a spaceship than with one’s fist?
“All right, Rhe’dhi. I’m online.” He announced, switching the comm system back on. “What’s your status?”
“We’re still here, at any rate.” To Weaver’s surprise, it was Paladin’s face that finally appeared on the screen. “We lost… we lost Hharak’s turret.”
“Did he eject?” Lawrence asked, feeling the blood drain out of his face.
“Dammit!” Terry exclaimed. Why now, when they had been so close to safety? “And Rhe’dhi?”
“Rhe’dhi’s fine. Just – just not in the mood to fly. Speaking of which, let’s get going… before more Kilrathi arrive.”
The massive bomber turned back towards the jump point, and Weaver followed. It was high time to finally be gone.
Lawrence looked out the window gloomily. It had been one thing to lose the Krak’ni’hra – as far as he was concerned, it had been just a ship. But Hharak wasn’t a ship – he was a person. Kilrathi… Human… it made no difference.
“I should have been there.” Weaver thought out loud. The Drakhri – well, there may have been two of them, but he should have known which was the bigger threat. He should have realised that they’d try to silence the last turret first. He should have…
“Don’t ye blame yourself now, you hear?” Colonel Taggart told him. “You were outnumbered. It’s a miracle that we’ve all survived this long as it is.”
“Maybe, but…”
“Enough!” Paladin replied firmly. “It wasn’t your fault. Neither you, nor the rest of us could do anything. This is a war, and people die. Hell, you’ve come pretty close to it yourself several times. You know what it’s like!”
Weaver remained silent. Combat was always chaotic – how could he have predicted what would happen? Paladin was right… but it was difficult to accept it. Why now? Why couldn’t the Kilrathi have appeared just five damned minutes later?
The ships charged on, rapidly approaching the coordinates of the jump point. Terry looked outside again, at the cold – and pitiless, apparently – vacuum beyond the window. Epsilon Prima… he hoped he’d never see this damned system again.
Finally, the computer emitted another quiet beep. They had arrived. The autopilot automatically reduced the speed to zero, since there was no enemy presence nearby.
“We’re here.” James said quietly. They looked about with relief, and some nervous anticipation. Morpheus had to be safe…
“All right… I guess I should jump first, eh? In case there’s someone on the other side.” Weaver replied, an anxious grin on his face. Not waiting for Paladin to reply, he pushed the button that would activate the jump drive.
Nothing happened.
“Oh… shit.” Said Terry, pushing the button again. Still nothing. “This thing’s not working!”
“You’re joking, lad?”
“No, sir. It’s not working. I’m running diagnostics right now.”
“Don’t bother.” Paladin told him grimly after a second. “I’ve found your problem.”
“What is it?” Weaver demanded.
“Transmitting data.” On the screen, Colonel Taggart’s face was suddenly replaced with an image of the Scimitar, from one of the Broadsword’s cameras.
“Holy!” Lawrence exclaimed, staring at the image in disbelief. Where the jump drive had been, there was only a charred pit. In fact, the fighter’s entire canopy was mangled out of shape, dented and blackened. “What now?”
“There’s only one option – you go for a space walk. Eject, and then use the seat’s thruster to move towards our airlock.”
“Use the thruster? Why not just… oh.” The tractor beam had been in the turret. “Well, if it’s the only option…” he reached for the ejection handle, and pulled on it as hard as he could.
He didn’t eject. As if the ship was trying to excuse its failure, several red lights lit up on the dashboard.
“Lad? We don’t have the time for this – eject.”
“I can’t!” Weaver answered. “The canopy’s so bent out of shape that there’s no way I can eject. And the door can’t be opened either!”
“God damn it!” Paladin whispered, and suddenly Terry realised the full extent of what this meant. He wouldn’t be going home – not now, not ever. He fell back into his seat, staring at the stars, and not seeing anything.
“It was an honour to meet you, sir.” He said. As far as he was concerned, he was already dead. And too tired to care. All he wanted now was to sleep – never to wake up.
“What are ye talking about?” James demanded, trying to cheer him up – like any good commander would.
Terry smiled. They both knew what the situation was. “Just jump, sir.”
Colonel Taggart’s eyes narrowed, as he stared intensely at Weaver’s image on his screen. “All right… but don’t you even think about getting yourself killed. Because I’m coming back, even if I have to steal the whole Goddamned Concordia right from under the Admiral’s nose!”
“Or so you say now.” Lawrence shrugged, uncaring. “It’ll be different when you’re there – safe.”
“It would… if I was Javelin. But I’m not, and you should know better than to accuse me of that. I WILL be back, lad. That’s a promise.”
It was Weaver’s turn to stare at him. He actually means it, Terry realised. He will come back! He smiled, and this time his smile had some warmth to it. “I’ll be waiting. Now go!”
“You’ll see!” Paladin told him, as the Broadsword powered up for the jump. “You will see!” And suddenly, the swirling blue tunnel opened right before the bomber. The ship sailed majestically into the portal. Then the tunnel closed, not waiting even a moment.
Weaver was alone.
He sighed. There wasn’t much he could do, and not much point in moving away from the jump point. If the Kilrathi came – so be it. He unbuckled his seatbelt, and stretched his legs out on top of the dashboard.
It took him no more than thirty seconds to fall asleep.


Well, there you have it
. I'll have those comments now, if you don't mind. Hand 'em over
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Cool, a new chapter. Don't have time to read it now, but in the words of General MacArthur, " I shall return."

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

Okay, pretty good, as always. About Hharak, tough break, eh? I like how you handled that. Not everybody's invincible now. The conversation between Jeff and Paladin on the Broadsword was cool too, perhaps foreshadowing events to come? And that ending definitely leaves me wanting more.

Oh, yeah, check out my new story. I've posted the first few chapters already.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Hharak died honourably. I wish he didn't have to - he was a good character, even if he didn't ever say more than five sentences at a time. Ah, well.
Foreshadowing events to come? Aye. Mind you, I don't foresee any future involvement from Paladin, but Talon will most likely show up again.
Yes, the ending was a bit of a cliffhanger, non? Well, I'd better hurry up and write the next chapter then
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Indeed. The title fits this chapter nicely.

Don't take too much time writing the next chapter, laddie. The expectation is going to make me blow a blood vessel...

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

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
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Och, come now lad. Weaver is taking things pretty calmly, and he's the one stranded in Killie territory
. But I'll see what I can do
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Predictability has its place sometimes
. I mean, if Weaver was foolhardy enough to risk flying a fighter with a jump drive strapped on top of it...
hell, he's probably lucky the whole thing didn't explode.
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I knew that this sort of thing would happen from the moment Paladin talked about that jump drive on the roof. Heh.

How much time is he gonna drift there until another Killie comes looking?

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

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
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I thought I'd give you a couple comments for once, Q.
Why would the Kilrathi want to go from Denab to Enigma? Denab is very close to Earth is it not?

Water tank? I don't see how a pilot can ingest water given the nature of pods up though at least WC3.

Turrets are historically dangerous to be in because the only way to get out is if you are sucked into space. I don't think it is possible for one to eject. If the turret was destroyed, I don't see how anyone could survive, so why would he bother asking if he survivied? Furthermore, unless the turret itself is sealed and isolated, there is going to be massive ship depressurization.
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If I got it right, only Paladin and Talon would get killed by ship depressurization.
The cockpit is sealed as is the airlock-brig.
In fact, I never got the impression (except from Privateer) that the fighters and bombers had some small cabins that could be used as living space. But I didn't play WC 1, 2 and add-ons. Neither did I read the books, so I can't say much.

Any chances of placing a bunk or a small bed in there? That way a privateer wouldn't need to pay for hotels...

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

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
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Ah, so you do still read these, DH

If you look at the WCP Universe map (which Dralthi5 really should download
), you will find that Deneb is actually squeezed between Vega and Enigma. The only way from it to Sol is through one of those sectors.
Water tank... yes, I made it up, but I don't see why not. The way I see it, it's hooked up directly to the pilot's helmet (and therefore, to the oxygen mask). There would be no problem with that arrangement, as long as the pilot doesn't switch on the water flow while he's talking (because he might choke

I've decided that turrets do have an ejection mechanism
. I don't see how Confed could expect people to man them otherwise, given the survival rates for bombers. It wouldn't actually be that much of a problem - we assume that the gunners must wear vac suits (a fair assumption, due to the danger of getting sucked out), and then we give them a simple mechanism that ejects them through a hatch overhead/underneath.

BTW, turrets are very well armoured, and it is possible that a turret operator would survive - in the same way that you can get your cockpit shot up in WC3 and still keep flying.

And yes, unless the designers were insane or stoned, the turret is sealed and isolated

Klaus: Most, quite naturally, wouldn't have any space. The Broadsword, however, is positively massive, and I don't think all that space is taken up by engines.
Also, ships like the Crossbow, Sabre, and the Broadsword are entered through the side, rather than straight into the cockpit. This suggests that there is a bit of space, at least.

A Privateer doesn't have to pay for hotels
. Worst case, he can put his bunk in the cargo bay
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All right, all right, I'll download the frickin' map!

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 08, 2000).]
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Quarto said:
The Broadsword, however, is positively massive, and I don't think all that space is taken up by engines.

If it was a real bomber, most of that space would be taken up by... bombs. But I suppose Wing Commander uses torpedoes slung under various hardpoints.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Ooh, another chapter to pit nick.

<LI>&gt;Or was it just déjà vu?&lt; - Something happened there.
<LI>&gt;getting closer… always closer.&lt; - How about "getting ever closer?"
<LI>&gt;Lawrence pulled a hard turn&lt; - It'd have been funny if he actually did that.

<LI>&gt;You’re drifting off&lt; - In more ways than one.

<LI>&gt;Weaver was certain that now he wouldn’t feel safe until his Scimitar was touching down onboard a Confederate capital ship.&lt; - Perhaps touched instead of was touching?
<LI>&gt;Stars. Nothing else.&lt; - Aw, what happened to all those pretty nebulae?

<LI>&gt;have in plans for him&lt; - Have in store?
<LI>&gt;or has that changed now?&lt; - I think it should be had.
<LI>&gt;I had switched away from combat flying&lt; - I'd remove the had there though. In fact "I turned away" may be better.
<LI>&gt;Then again, they were just two people&lt; - Oh, I like that.

<LI>&gt;an oddly Kilrathi-like expression.&lt; - &gt;:confused:&lt;
<LI>&gt;Weaver ended up getting a visit from the medics, and then from the psychiatrist.&lt; - Hmm. Usually it's the other way around, as in they don't come to you - you get sent to them.
<LI>&gt;But by some cruel irony&lt; + &gt;the Kilrathi simply couldn’t force himself to sleep&lt; - No kidding. A feline with insomnia.

<LI>&gt;respect for this Human’s abilities – as well as their limits.&lt; - Use singular or plural, not both.
<LI>&gt;the monotony of the motionless stars&lt; - Very nice.
<LI>&gt;imagine the reaction when – if – somebody brought it up&lt; - I would remove the "- if -" since you just used the exact same construction.
<LI>&gt;Thus it was that&lt; - Ick.
<LI>&gt;torture for trained pilots – to see and hear nothing&lt; - I think you used hear one too many times there. You could use deafened and blinded is one of the sentences instead.
<LI>&gt;you’d be helping be on the Bonnie Heather…&lt; - Be helping me.
<LI>&gt;wait a few years for it, it would be worth it.&lt; - I'd remove "for it".
<LI>&gt;The clash of the five vessels was one of fury in its purest form.&lt; - Your on the verge of overdoing it there.
<LI>&gt;And still, Hharak fired&lt; - There are better ways of joining sentences than and still.
<LI>&gt;Suddenly,&lt; - I could see that coming a mile of.
<LI>&gt;Hharak screamed with joy,&lt; - Screamed? I'd have roared.
<LI>&gt;not concerned&lt; - Perhaps he was just unconcerned.
<LI>&gt;The vast outburst of the missile’s exploding charge mushroomed out towards the ponderous bomber&lt; - Nice enough, but I'd remove one of the outs.
<LI>&gt;wave of heat&lt; - Heatwave?
<LI>&gt;He didn’t understand the fury, either. But couldn’t resist his subconscious.&lt; - I see no reason not to join those two sentences. And you might substitute something for subconscious. Intuition or instinct perhaps?
<LI>&gt;But it didn’t.&lt; - I don't know why, but I'm alergic to starting sentences with but. How about using yet?
<LI>&gt;mangled but still alive.&lt; - Ships have lives? Well if you say so.
<LI>&gt;attempting to restart the engines, yet failing.&lt; - But I'd use and instead of yet there.

<LI>&gt;He raised his fist again… and halted it in mid-strike, staring at the screen in surprise.&lt; - Oh I just can't resist: "He raised his fist again, halting it mid-strike to stare at screen in surprise."
<LI>&gt;The massive bomber turned back towards&lt; - How about switching turned to started?
<LI>&gt;Morpheus had to be safe…&lt; - You mean The Morpheus?
<LI>&gt;It took him no more than thirty seconds to fall asleep.&lt; - At least he can finally get some shuteye.


Well there y'go laddie. In my opinion the best chapter to date. Original yet plausible. My only comments would be the one or two overpoetic sentences and slight rush in descriptions - though the later is probably the result of getting too used to slow moving chapters. Perhaps the end came across as a bit of an anticlimax, though I didn't see it that way since I know you're not one to kill off a defenseless hero.
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I didn't really look at the Universe map, assuming falling back from Vega sector was a step back to Earth in WC1. Denab isn't even a sector anymore, it's a quadrant.

What kind of water mechanism is this? You said the water tank is on the ejection seat? How does water get from the seat to the helmet? I never saw a tube connect the two...Oh, I know...the pilot pulls a retractable tube from the seat and plugs in, activating a straw in the front of the helmet.

"I don't see how Confed could expect people to man them otherwise"
Well, Confed has suffered severe gunner losses.
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I didn't really look at the Universe map, assuming falling back from Vega sector was a step back to Earth in WC1. Denab isn't even a sector anymore, it's a quadrant.
Aye. But I've come to the conclusion that what is referred to as Deneb Quadrant is exactly the same as Deneb Sector. Note that Antares Quadrant was also referred to as a Sector.

Hey, you don't exactly see the oxygen tubes from his backpack (or wherever the oxygen is) to his helmet either
. And I'm fairly sure they're there

Confed has suffered heavy gunner losses because the turret is nonetheless more dangerous than the cockpit, and most of the time the poor gunners die before they can reach the handle.

1. Je ne comprends pas.
2. Non, how about "getting closer... ever closer"? You'll have to try harder if you want to kill that ellipsis
3. Aw, you know what I mean
4. In about as many ways as he possibly could
5. No, because it was supposed to be in the present tense - ie., he'd feel safe when his Scimitar was finally coming in to land.
6. The Scim doesn't have hardware acceleration
7. Hmm, yes. I like.
8. Toint pell waken.
9. Hmm... ok.

11. No, not quite like that
12. Yeah, but Weaver always got lost on the way
, so they ended up having to go to him.
13. Yeah... I mean, what's next?
14. Whoops. Singular it is.
15. Thank you.

16. Ah, yes. I see your point.
17. Hmm, now that you mention it. I changed it to "That being the case,".
18. Ok, I changed that to "to be deaf and blind until there[...]". I also moved "even" to before "then".
19. How did that b get past? Sneaky little git, ain't it?
20. Agreed.
21. Well, as long as I'm just on the verge
. I know that perhaps that's a trifle overdone, but I'll let it be.
22. Yes, but that's one I haven't used before
23. Oh, be nice
24. Roared... that's the word I wanted!
25. Oh, all right
26. Maybe, but which one? They're both rather useful.
27. Hmm, yes.
28. Ok, but they get joined with a dash
. And I'll take instinct.
29. What, I'm overdoing something again?
Hmm, I'll use yet, just this once.
30. Well, intact wouldn't have been appropriate. One piece?
31. Hmm, all right.
32. You really don't like ellipsis, do you?
I like it the way it is, actually.
33. Yes, that's one I haven't really used yet. But it doesn't sound quite right, so I'll also change back to again.
34. No, I mean Morpheus. You don't say The Sol. You say The Sol System, or just plain Sol.
35. For a little while, yes.

Best chapter to date?!? How curious
. I actually wasn't all that happy with this chapter, and I thought the combat scene was merely adequate in quality... probably because there's been so much combat lately. Ah, well. Not much left now
I'll try not to get overpoetic, but you know, I can only write what the voices in my head tell me
. So if I get too poetic, it's all their fault
Hmm, you know, Hharak also thought that I wouldn't kill off a defenceless hero...
Anyway, I know that the reader would've probably enjoyed it more if the Scimitar made the jump, but Weaver's still got something to do before he leaves Morpheus...
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Yeah, but why wouldn't it be possible to integrate a water duct into the pressure suit? One or two valves, and there would be no problems whatsoever.
I don't know, but this chapter reminds me of that famous battle term...

What was it now...?

Ah, yes : "pyrrhic victory"

Well, it looks almost like that...

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

"...we follow the sun, we follow the sun, we follow the sun..."
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