Wing Commander (novelization) Chapter 18

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Chapter 18
Book Wing Commander
Parts 9
Previous Chapter 17
Next Chapter 19
Pages 133-141

Dramatis Personae

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9

Jay Sansky

Jay Sansky

Jay Sansky


Jay Sansky

Miguel Rodriguez

Jay Sansky

Justin Jones

Jay Sansky


William Wilson

Harrison Falk
Paul Gerald
Jennifer Leiby
Corey Obutu

Paul Gerald

Paul Gerald
Corey Obutu

Ashley Galaway

Harrison Falk
Paul Gerald

David Olivia

Harrison Falk
Paul Gerald
Miguel Rodriguez
Corey Obutu


Unnamed Helmsman
Unnamed Security Pilots

Unnamed Techs


William Wilson

James "Paladin" Taggart



MARCH 17, 2654
0600 HOURS

Part One

Rolling Admiral Tolwyn's ring between his fingers, Captain Jay Sansky transported himself 700 light-years away from the bridge of the Tiger Claw and the Jovian-like system it now approached. He put himself back in his holopic, back on graduation day from the academy in Houston. He and Bill Wilson had driven out to the desert preserve with two bottles of champagne and four years' worth of memories ...

Part Two

"Was it really worth it?" Wilson asked, leaning on the hood of their borrowed military hover.

     "For once the years didn't go by fast. God, the exams. The sacrifices. What did we do, Bill? Sell off our youth?"

     Wilson roared with laughter. "I was talking about driving out here. We could've drank and said our good-byes at my place. But no, you wanted to come all the way out here to see your desert one more time. Well, here it is." He waved his bottle over the wind-swept sand, then took a long pull. "Truth is, this might be the only thing left when I return. The people? They'll all be gone--and maybe the academy with them. I need something to come back to."

     "Hang on to your memories. This planet might be gone." He raised his bottle to the sky. "There's a force out there much greater than our experience. And we think the stars are our destiny, Jay. I think we're wrong."

     "Then why are you going?"

     "I don't know. Maybe it's already too late to say no. Or maybe I just want to prove that we don't belong there."

     Sansky lifted his own bottle in a toast. "Then here's to going--for whatever reasonand coming back."

     "We're going to change the universe, Jay. I know that."

     "Okay. But let's get drunk first."

Part Three

A bead of sweat trickled down Sansky's forehead, as though he still stood in the desert's unforgiving heat. The mottled gas giant returned to view, two of its moons floating to port, a third peeking out behind the planet. A wing of Rapiers flew point, escorting the Tiger Claw through a broad series of rings composed of billions of water-ice particles and rock fragments ranging from 5,000 to about 79,000 kilometers away from the planet. Two other tenuous rings orbited much more distantly.

     "This is Black Lion Seven to Pride One. Getting a lot of interference from the belt. Scope's clear, but I don't trust it, roger."

     Sansky shifted to the comm console, where Lieutenant Commander Obutu stood at Comm Officer Sasaki's shoulder. The screen showed the reporting pilot, Major Jennifer Leiby, her eyes narrowed, her face cast in the blue glow of display units. "Copy that, Seven," Obutu said into his headset. "Continue the sweep, manual as necessary."

     "Aye-aye, sir. Think I see something now. Wait a minute. Is that ... Bogies inbound. I say again--" A burst of static stole her words. "I'm hit! I'm hit! Mayday!"

     Through the viewport and out past the Jovian-like planet's third moon, a speck of light burned briefly.

     "Who's reporting in?" Gerald asked, bursting onto the bridge.

     "Major Leiby," Obutu answered. "But we've lost contact."

     Gerald's lip twitched. "What?"

     "I read multiple targets inbound!" Radar Tech Harrison Falk said. The twenty-year-old stood before his tall, transparent screen and looked to Sansky, his face stricken.

     Sansky regarded the viewport as Gerald and Obutu strained for their own view.

     Dozens of small, glinting dots--and three larger ones--materialized from the cover of the third moon.

     As Sansky turned back, Falk had already begun plotting the enemy's course. Obutu shouted commands to the security patrol pilots. The helmsman pulled up an evasion course on his screen. Then Gerald bolted to his command chair, dropped into it, and, after a nod from Sansky, shouted, "Battle stations! Battle stations! Launch all fighters!"

     Despite the bridge's frenetic energy, Sansky felt a strange calm settle over him. The enemy attack force charged toward them with only a wing of Rapiers to stop it, but his calm would not yield to fear. And that wasn't so strange, after all. It was the calm you feel while lying on the ice at the moment before freezing; the calm you feel while staring into the headlights of a massive transport about to strike you down; the calm you feel while surrendering to fate after too many years of fighting it. Bill was right ... Bill was right.

Part Four

"Get those goddamned flight doors open," Flight Boss Raznick shouted into the comm. He stood at his desk, glaring down through the Plexi at the techs running frantically about his deck.

     "I'm on it, sir," a jittery Specialist Mistovski replied. "But the pressure's low on the left side. Once it's open, I don't know if we'll get it shut again."

     "If we don't get it open, you won't ... never mind! Just prioritize, young man. Prioritize!"

     "Yes, sir."

     "Peterson!" Raznick called.

     "Here, sir."

     "Are we clear yet?"

     "I got one more tanker and another plow to move."

     "Then why are you talking to me? Get on it!"

     "Yes, sir!"

     "Raznick? Where are my fighters?" Commander Gerald asked through the comm.

     "They're hot. Ten seconds to clear."

     "What's the delay?"

     "Problem with one of the hangar doors, sir." Raznick looked to the doors, now yawning open. "But it's been resolved."

     "Good. Let's see if you can beat your record."

     "Aye-aye, sir!"

     Raznick's record: six launches per minute. But that included preflighting. He flipped on the deckwide intercom. "Attention pilots. Quickshot launch procedures are now in effect. I want seven birds off my deck in one minute. Do you read me!"

     "We read you, sir!"

Part Five

Sansky took one more look at the wave of enemy ships, then retreated to the captain's console, where he watched the attack as though it were a holo. The security patrol engaged the incoming fighters, converting the gas giant's ring system into a furball more deadly than any he had ever witnessed. Dralthi fighters double- and triple-teamed Confederation Rapiers, while the enemy's Krant medium fighters darted like furtive wasps between ice and stone, vectoring toward the Tiger Claw. The viewports soon flooded with the images of individual dogfights, of fighters from both sides being run off-course to collide with asteroids. The carrier's eight dual laser turrets oscillated and sent shudders throughout the ship as they fired upon swooping targets while intermittently throwing up clouds of scintillating flak. Rapiers and Broadsword bombers arrowed away from the flight hangar to join the explosive fray, some torn to ribbons less than a kilometer from the ship and chain-detonating others.

     Beyond the launching counterassault, on the fringe of the hastily drawn battle line, awaited the still-indistinct Kilrathi capital ships. Paused now so that their fighters could soften up the Claw, they would soon spring for the kill.

     "All fighters launched, sir," Obutu announced, his voice sounding hollow and several lifetimes away.

     Someone touched Sansky's shoulder. "Sir?"

     Gerald's concern, an emotion he rarely displayed, brought Sansky back to the bridge, to the memory of his rank, his job. All was not lost--or gained--yet. "Shields up!"

     Obutu looked at him, puzzled. "Sir, shields already standing at maximum power."

     "Good," Sansky said, unmoved by his redundant order. "Torpedo room. Prepare all tubes!"

Part Six

"Got her down?" Spaceman Rodriguez asked, lifting his voice over the squeal of alarms that still echoed through the secondary ordnance room. "Weapon is set," Galaway answered as he jogged toward her.

     The torpedo sat on its loader, ready to slide smartly into its tube. Rodriguez threw open the hatch, then thumbed the autoloader switch. The loader hummed as it delivered its cargo. Once the weapon clicked into place, he closed the hatch and waved Galaway on to the next tube.

     Rodriguez had been taught that the manual loading of torpedoes on capital ships, while seemingly archaic, not only resulted in an unparalleled level of safety but also upheld a centuries-long tradition of naval teamwork. And, Rodriguez thought, touching the torpedoes before they went out personalized the war; it put him on the front line instead of in the ship's bowels.

     "Tired yet?" he asked Galaway.

     "No way."

     "Good. After we win this battle, let's you and I celebrate. We're going to salsa."

     She grinned slyly. "You just want to dance?"

Part Seven

An automated voice rattled through the bridge's speakers: "Torpedo launch status: nominal."

     "I count three dozen Kilrathi starfighters, two Ralari-class destroyers, and one dreadnought," Falk said, studying the holographic images on his display. "The cap ships are advancing at one hundred and twenty KPS. They'll be in firing range in four seconds."

     Sansky glanced obliquely at Gerald. "That damned Taggart was right."

     "Maybe he knew something that we didn't. And if he did, then I'll brig him for withholding information."

     "Worry about your bruised ego later, Mr. Gerald. Helm. Come about."

     "Torpedoes incoming!" Falk cried.

     A pair of Kilrathi torpedoes trailing thin plumes of exhaust followed a lazy curve, then shot headlong at the carrier.

     "Launch countermeasures," Sansky said.

     Falk nodded as the chaff clouds illuminated his screen.

     "Countermeasures away and ... shit, sir. Sorry, sir. Torpedoes still on course, targeting port bow."

     "Sound the collision alarm," Sansky ordered Gerald. "Rig the ship for impact."

     Slashing through shards of ice and fluttering rock chips, the projectiles increased velocity as they came within fifty kilometers of the ship. Forty ... thirty ...

     "Oh, God," Falk moaned. "Impact in three seconds."

     The first missile exploded over the carrier's phase shields, tossing up lightning-laced rainbows of energy and debris that fell mercilessly upon her superstructure. Sansky clung to his chair as the second torpedo hit, and the bridge seemed to wheeze as the bomb throttled it. Falk shouted something unintelligible. Gerald grunted. Obutu demanded a damage report even as the blast wave persisted.

Part Eight

Down on the flight deck, Specialist Jones rushed to his feet, then he and Olivia sprinted toward a half-full missile rack that had broken free from its bulkhead straps.

     A second impact tossed them back to the deck, and the bulkheads seemed to clap with the volume and vigor of an enormous god. The rumble gave way to a piercing screech.

     "Watch out!" Boss Raznick screamed over the intercom.

     Jones stared into the faces of dozens of missiles as the entire rack that housed them fell forward. He threw himself back, fleeing crab-like as the three tons of explosives and durasteel hit the deck, missing him by a half-meter. The resulting concussion tossed him nearly as far away. He looked around, chills rippling, heart slamming his ribs. Where was Olivia? Ohmygod. Ohmygod. "Olivia!"


     After a glance over his shoulder, Jones sighed.

     "Gentlemen! I want a crane in there now!" Raznick said. "I want that rack up and battened down in ninety seconds!"

     Jones gave Olivia a nervous stare, then got to his feet. "I'll be right back."

     "You're kidding me. No way. Not now."

     He charged toward the lift doors. "I'll be right back!"

Part Nine

Aftershocks reverberated through the bridge. Sansky caught his breath and said, "Do we have a reply, Mr. Gerald?"

     "We do, sir. Give me a target, Mr. Falk."

     "Target acquisition imminent," Falk said, his voice cracking. "We have a lock!"

     Gerald beat a fist on his palm. "Fire tubes one and two!"

     Like unleashed bloodhounds, the two torpedoes sped away from the carrier, drawing chalk lines across the Jovian rings.

     "Captain, I have visual from a Rapier near the destroyers," Comm Officer Sasaki said.

     "On my screen."

     The Rapier pilot spiraled through an incredible hailstorm of flak and laser fire, hurling himself toward the enemy destroyer, then pulling a six-G climb to break away. The image switched to his aft turret as two torpedoes slammed into the destroyer's weak shields and penetrated her hull armor. Twin shock waves undulated through the ship's port side, dividing her amidships with underwater slowness. She spewed a huge, debris-laden gas bubble into the vacuum as hundreds of smaller explosions dotted her plastisteel innards. For a moment, Sansky thought he saw the Kilrathi themselves, giant bodies floating free and clawing for that green fog they breathed.

     "Two direct hits, sir," Falk reported to cheers from the bridge crew.

     The Rapier pilot kept broadcasting images, and Sansky slipped back into his alluring calm as the dreadnought turned parallel with the remaining destroyer.

     Her tubes opened.

     A pair of torpedoes lanced out.

     There would be no stopping the Kilrathi now. And a man, Sansky thought, must be true to his heart, especially at the end. If he could manage that, then an apparent defeat would become a resounding victory. No one else would understand, but he would. And that was all that mattered.

     Voices grew faint, muffled. Gerald shouted something about countermeasures. Falk's reply lacked hope. Then everyone screamed in unison as the enemy torpedoes struck a one-two punch across the phase shields.

     Sansky rode the first shock wave, then fell to the deck as consoles crackled and smoked above him in a sudden choreography of chaos.

     "Comm is off-line!" Sasaki exclaimed. "Rerouting bridge to secondary."

     "The phase shield is suffering a forty percent failure," Obutu added. "Battery room reports a fire. Torpedo room reporting damage. Unable to launch."

     Sparks danced on Sansky's shoulders as he climbed back into his chair. Just outside the viewport, the remaining Rapiers struggled to lure the dozens of Dralthi and Krant fighters away from the Tiger Claw.

     "I'm reading eight more targets from behind the dreadnought," Falk said.

     Gerald made a lopsided grin. "They're sending in reinforcements."

     "We should be flattered," Sansky said. He opened a comm channel. "Torpedo room. Report."

     Spaceman 2nd Class Rodriguez, his eyes red from the smoke pouring into the station behind him, leaned toward the camera. "Tubes three and four damaged, sir. Autoloaders not operational. And we can't get back to one and two. The bulkhead's collapsed."

     "Get me one tube back online, son. Can you do that?"

     "I'll try, sir."

     "Jesus ... we can't fire?" Gerald said, springing to his feet. "Mr. Obutu. See if Mr. Raznick can spare some people to form a damage control crew in Secondary Ordnance."

     Obutu nodded and spoke quickly into his headset.

     "Captain, scanning the cruiser," Falk said. "She's opening tubes."

     "Of course she is," Sansky said calmly. "Of course she is." A shadow fell over him. He gazed into Gerald's solemn face. "Commander?"

     "The situation is dire, sir. If we're going to die, I suggest we ram this ship straight up their asses."

     "That's a brave if not eloquent thought, Mr. Gerald. But we'll never get in that close."

     "So we wait here to die?"

     "Watch that tone, Mister."

     "For God's sake, Captain. Jay. Let's go down fighting."

     "I agree, sir," Obutu said, then looked to Gerald. "Damage control crew on its way to the secondary ordnance room."

     "Gentlemen. I have no intention of dying. Rolling over and playing dead ... maybe."