Wing Commander (novelization) Chapter 16

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Chapter 16
Book Wing Commander
Parts 2
Previous Chapter 15
Next Chapter 17
Pages 120-126

Dramatis Personae

Part 1 Part 2

Christopher Blair

Todd "Maniac" Marshall


Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux
Unnamed Academy Instructor

Rosalind "Sassy" Forbes


Arnold Blair
Charles "Bossman" Chen
Pierre Christian Deveraux
Marie Sousex Deveraux
Paul Gerald
Devi Soulsong

Christopher Blair
Rosalind Forbes' Parents
Unnamed Noncom


MARCH 17, 2654
0500 HOURS

Part One

"Before every battle, all pilots should spend a quiet moment of meditation. Within each of you lies the ability to transcend what you believe you can do. Within each of you lies a tiger's heart. To find it, you must begin at peace, comfortable with the world around you, with the future as you see it, with the thought of killing. There is no emotion. Only the job. You sight the target, terminate it with impunity, and move through it without looking back."

     Deveraux's academy instructor had said those words to her graduating class, words that lived in Deveraux with the same vitality as the day she had first heard them. She could repeat every sentence, every cadence of his speech, having turned a heartfelt reminder into a personal pledge and prayer that she repeated before every mission.

     When she had left the bridge with orders to lead a strike force to take out the Kilrathi ConCom ship, she had headed directly to her quarters to shower, change into a clean flight suit, and sit at her desk to meditate. No one had ever taught Deveraux how to meditate; in fact, she wasn't sure if she did it correctly. She had read that proper meditation can lessen levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. She also knew that meditation enhanced the body's recuperative functions.

     But what she really searched for, what remained at the fringe of her thoughts, was a sense of true identity. A sense that she wasn't just the product of an orphanage, that her parents' lives meant something to hers, that the feeling of emptiness would not lie locked in her heart forever, that somewhere inside lay a key.

     Deveraux had yet to find that key. Perhaps she did need lessons in meditation. And she didn't ask for much. She had no aspirations to attain conscious union with the divine or experience divine grace; she simply wanted to feel good about herself. She opened her eyes, reached across her desk, and switched on the holovid player.

     A small girl seated on the edge of a picnic blanket glimmered at the foot of her bunk. A young man rolled a pink ball toward the girl, while a young woman looked on with a proud grin. Intermittent buzzing resounded over their voices, and the picture flickered with static. Deveraux swore over the disc's age. She would have to mail it off to a company for restoration, but she would hate parting with the vid, even for a second. That family, sometimes looking so distant, so unfamiliar, sometimes looking like her exposed soul, remained the only visual record she had of a life that had suddenly ceased. Sure, she could make copies of the vid, but knowing that her parents had touched the same disc rendered it irreplaceable.

     A ring from her hatch bell startled her. She stood, paused the holovid, then moved to greet her visitor. Not many people came to see Deveraux, owing to her admonishments about the value of privacy during stand-down. She touched the open key.

     And lost a heartbeat.

     "I need to talk to you." Blair leaned on the doorjamb, his face long, his eyes reflective pools.

     She forgot to breathe. She glanced to the holovid, the figures frozen--

     Blair pushed his way past her.

     "Hey. You can't barge into my--"

     He spun and tossed something to her. "I wear it for luck."

     She caught, then examined the cross.

     "It was my mother's," he explained.

     "Is your luck at odds with our mission?"

     That drew a long sigh from him. He shifted away, surveying the rest of her quarters, his gaze falling on the paused holovid. "What's this?"

     "Nothing," she said, then practically dove toward the holovid and shut it off. "You should leave."

     "You worried about gossip? I'm not. I already know what they're saying about me."

     "You give them reason to talk."

     He searched the ceiling for a reply, then finally said, "You think he's right about me?"

     "Who? Gerald?"

     "Yeah. I mean, in his mind I started selling out the Tiger Claw the moment I stepped on board."

     Her gaze flicked to the cross. "I don't see how you can be a Pilgrim and fight on our side."

     "I'm not a Pilgrim. I don't even know what a Pilgrim is."

     "You're not that naive--otherwise you'd keep this thing in a box."

     "I guess you're right. My mother was an off-worlder who grew up hating Earth, hating humanity. My father fought for the Confederation. Somehow, despite all the hate, they found each other."


     "I don't know. They died before I was five. He was killed trying to save her in the Peron Massacre. That cross is all I have. I'm not sure where I belong, Commander, except here, fighting and flying."

     As she turned the cross over in her hands, Deveraux felt a chill spidering across her neck. "Sit down, Lieutenant."

     He moved toward her bunk, but she directed him to the chair at her desk.

     "Why do you think they call me Angel?" she asked.

     His shoulders lifted in a half-shrug.

     "It's a real weeper. Headlines: My parents died in the same war. I grew up in an orphanage on Earth, in Brussels."

     Their gazes met, and Deveraux sensed an even stronger connection.

     "At night, I'd cry for them," she continued. "The sisters told me they were angels. I kept crying for them to come and take me to heaven. But they weren't angels. They were dead. Gone. It was like they had never existed."

     "Like Bossman?"

     Deveraux held herself for a moment, forcing her breath to steady, her hands to stop trembling. "Emotion gets in the way of our mission. There is no emotion. Only the job. You sight the target, terminate it with impunity, and move through it without looking back."

     "Commander, emotion is what separates us from the Pilgrims. And the Kilrathi."

     She leaned back on the bulkhead and shut her eyes, seeing Chen's smile, listening to him joke about being "Ripper" in his younger days and how he had changed his ways to become a model pilot revered by the younger jocks who sought him for advice. They began to call him Bossman. And Bossman had left his wife and baby daughter behind. That little girl would never know her father, and the thought enraged Deveraux. She opened her eyes, felt the sting of tears, and said, "Lieutenant Commander Chen was… Bossman and I got close. Too close. And then he got himself killed." A tear slid down her cheek, damn it.

     Blair rose, reaching out to comfort her.

     She motioned him off, then backhanded the tears away. "Consider what you just saw classified."

     He lowered his hand and smiled just enough to make her feel better. "Yes, ma'am. And can I ask you something?"

     "That depends."

     "You said that your parents were killed in the same war. Were they killed by Pilgrims?"

     Her gaze searched his. "You want to know what side my family was on, is that it, Lieutenant?"

     "Actually, I was wondering more about you." He looked at the cross.

     "I don't know how they were killed. So the point is moot."

     "Wouldn't you like to know?"

     "I've already tried to find out. Those records were lost."

     He looked to the holovid player. "Is that your cross?"

     "Lieutenant, we're square. You saved my ass today. And I have a few things to finish here." She handed him the cross.

     With a curt nod, he headed for the hatch.

     "And Blair," she called after him. "Gerald's a clown."

     His eyes thanked her.

Part Two

Maniac lived to eat, to fly, and to have sex. Nothing profound about it.

     The food aboard the Tiger Claw wasn't half bad, the fighters, though patched up even more than some of his father's ships, weren't half bad, and the women, well, that was where the Claw really excelled.

     "Are you sure he's not coming back?" Forbes asked, laying naked and sweaty beside him.

     "Even if he does," Maniac said, still catching his breath, "I changed the hatch code. Besides, Blair's a bright boy. He'll find a place to sleep and leave us alone."

     "But will he talk?"


     "I guess you're right." She rolled over and began sucking on his earlobe.

     "Come on, fire it up one more time."

     He placed a palm on his bare chest, feeling his heart pumping overtime. "I think the Big Maniac needs time to refuel."

     Forbes tsked. "C'mon, baby. Don't I take care of you?"

     "That is a big yes, ma'am."

     "Well, don't you care about my needs?" She climbed on top of him and finger-combed his hair.

     "I'm all about your needs."


     "Yeah. And right now you need to shut up and go to sleep."

     She looked wounded, rolled off of him, then draped an arm over her eyes.

     "You make it all worthwhile," he said earnestly.

     "Make what worthwhile?"

     "Busting my ass at the academy. Coming out here to fight. Saying good-bye to everyone back home."

     "Yeah, I remember the briefing," she began, then dropped her voice to quote some Confed noncom. "By the time you return, everyone you know will be dead and buried."

     He frowned. "I don't care about any of that."

     "You lie. What about your family?"

     "What about yours? In fact, you haven't told me anything."

     "You haven't asked."

     "Touche. So what's your story, uh, what did you say your name was?"

     She slammed him with her pillow. "Like you want to know."

     "Really. I do. Tell me about your parents. You got any brothers or sisters?"

     "I'm an only child. When I left for the academy, my parents stopped talking to me. It was like I was dying, and they couldn't take a long illness. So they cut me off from the start. I haven't spoken to them in six years."

     "Sorry. I was better off not asking."

     "No, it's all right. I've come to terms with it. I understand why they did what they did. I think they're cowards, but I understand. Some day I am going to die out there. I've had premonitions for years. So I don't blame them anymore. I'm their baby, and there's nothing more painful than losing a child. Sometimes I wonder how they're doing. I wonder if my mother's still yelling at him for drinking too much beer and if he's still yelling at her for complaining."

     "I don't think that'll change." Maniac rubbed the corners of his eyes.

     "Man, this conversation has gone all weepy on us. But thank God there's good news."

     Her brow lifted.

     He cupped his mouth and leaned into his shoulder. "Roger, Whiskey Halo Three. Refueling complete. The Big Maniac is back in business." He grabbed her shoulder and zeroed in for the kiss.

     A rapid beeping sounded from the intercom, a tone Maniac recognized as the alert call.

     "Shit," Forbes groaned. "This war's really starting to piss me off."