Wing Commander Junior Novelization Chapter 19

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Chapter 19
Book Wing Commander Junior Novelization
Parts 5
Previous Chapter 18
Next Chapter 20
Pages 91-96
Source Wing Commander Chapter 19, Part One, Part Two, Part Four, Part Five and Part Six

Dramatis Personae

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Jay Sansky

Christopher Blair

Jay Sansky

Christopher Blair

James "Paladin" Taggart


Paul Gerald
Corey Obutu

Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux
Rosalid "Sassy" Forbes
Todd "Maniac" Marshall
James "Paladin" Taggart

Paul Gerald
Corey Obutu

Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux
Joseph "Knight" Khumelo
Todd "Maniac" Marshall
James "Paladin" Taggart


Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux
Miguel Rodriguez

Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux


MARCH 17, 2654
0630 HOURS

Part One

"Mr. Obutu? Prepare to power down the entire ship," Gerald said, sliding back into his command chair.

     "Power down the ship. Aye-aye, sir." A layer of sweat dappled Obutu's face, but his voice did not waver.

     Sansky, noting the renewed hope in his crew, rose to pace the bridge. He did not share their faith in the plan, despite having suggested it. Powerless and adrift, the Tiger Claw would become an object of curiosity to the Kilrathi. The dreadnought's captain might bring his ship in close enough for the Claw to launch a sudden, point-blank torpedo--providing that Mr. Rodriguez and the DCC got a tube back online.

     Or, as Sansky more likely figured, the big cat would note the power down, bare his fangs, and, without a second thought, blow the Tiger Claw into a memorial.

     "Captain," Sasaki called excitedly. "I'm getting a friend or foe acknowledge from the new starfighters. They're ours, sir."

     "It's Deveraux's strike force," Sansky said, guarding his emotions. The tide had still not turned.

     But Gerald smiled back at the opportunity. "Mr. Obutu. Belay that power down. And find out how that DCC is doing in secondary ordnance."

     "Aye, sir."

     Flying in wedge formation, Deveraux's fighters, still just pinpricks of light, soared in behind the Kilrathi dreadnought and destroyer.

Part Two

As a half-dozen targets presented themselves in Blair's HUD, instinct drove his gloved finger over the primary weapons trigger. He listened intently for the order to break and attack.

     Deveraux hadn't said much since giving in to Taggart's pleas. They had returned to the Claw at full throttle, and when Forbes had sighted the destroyer and dreadnought, an odd mixture of relief, regret, and anticipation had filtered into the voices of Blair's comrades. Taggart had been right, but being right meant that the Tiger Claw had already faced a more powerful force without some of her best fighter pilots. Although Blair and company would now join the party, the Claw hardly stood a chance.

     "All right, ladies. All Rapiers except Maniac and Blair engage those Dralthi."

     Blair bit back a curse. "Commander, I didn't come out here as an observer."

"Relax, Lieutenant. Drama equals danger plus desire, and it's about to become dramatic."

     "See you later, nugget," Forbes told Maniac.

     "Watch yourself, Rosie."

     The rest of the strike force peeled off in pairs to confront the Dralthi fighters streaking in at the wing's one o'clock low. Spiraling missiles and criss-crossing laser bolts produced a dense, expanding web that promised to snag any pilot who broke rhythm or got cocky.

     "Broadswords, follow me in," Deveraux said.

     "Roger that," Taggart responded. "Beginning the bomb run."

     "Maniac? Blair?" she called. "Cover us."

     Wrenching her Rapier into a forty-five-degree turn, Deveraux raced under and ahead of the Broadswords. The bombers throttled up and swept in behind her. She rolled to level off, spearheading the quintet.

     "And here comes the flak barrage," Deveraux said.

     The capital ships' big turrets spat and coughed up Triple-A fire that hung like handfuls of cotton balls tossed in zero G. And worse, the dreadnought's torpedo tubes opened to fire a salvo at the Tiger Claw, whose deck shields already cushioned rounds from dozens of strafing Dralthis.

     Maniac's face popped up on Blair's left VDU. "Hey, man. Look!"

     A mere kilometer stood between the Tiger Claw and the four Kilrathi torpedoes.

     From his position, Blair could do no more than watch.

Part Three

The torpedoes hit, and Sansky's command console tore apart. A jagged section flew up at him before he could block it. His head snapped back as the bulky panel struck his forehead. His face, once sticky with sweat, now felt warm and slippery. He lay back on his chair, his neck growing numb, his breath ragged.

     Behind him, Obutu's voice penetrated the booming of lower- Deck explosions. "The hull has been breached at level three. Steering loss: eighty percent. Drone repair crew activated. Estimated recovery time: six minutes."

     "Sir?" Gerald asked, standing somewhere nearby. "Sir? Medic! Medic to the bridge!"

Part Four

Blair? How's our six?" Deveraux asked.

     "Clear for the moment," he replied, not that his report really mattered. The radar display--a living, breathing thing--could change in a heartbeat.

     The proof lay in front of him as four Salthi light fighters shaped like upside-down V's broke formation to intercept the bombers. Blair tracked their velocity at nearly one thousand KPS, their afterburners blazing. One Salthi didn't pose a huge threat to a Rapier. But like killer bees, if you faced enough of them, they would overcome you.

     A Dumb-Fire missile flared below Deveraux's starboard wing, then went from zero to 850 KPS in three seconds--enough time for the Salthi pilot she had targeted to curse her and beg for Sivar's forgiveness.

     As Deveraux's Salthi vanished in a short-lived explosion, the fighter nearest it scissored across Blair's field of view. He dove after the Salthi, fixed his cross-hairs on the green circle leading the fighter, and dished out a flurry of bolts from his rotating nose cannon. The first bolt struck the Salthi's shields, crooked fingers of energy scattering across a light blue hemisphere. More bolts stitched a pattern across the Salthi's cockpit, and the ship flipped into a barrel roll before bursting apart.

     Cannon fire from the cap ships cut through Blair's path as he strained to regroup with the bombers. He jammed the stick forward, plunging in a sixty-degree dive to escape.

     But the autotracking systems aboard the cap ships refused to abandon their prey. The thick, deadly bolts returned, raking space along his Rapier's port side.

     "It's getting too hot," Deveraux said. "It's up to the bombers. Let's get back out there."

     Blair pulled up, flying below the bombers, then banked hard on a new heading for Deveraux's six. He switched to his aft turret camera and watched the bombers zero in on the destroyer's starboard bow.

     "Thanks for the escort," Taggart said, then addressed Knight, who flew in first. "Steady on course. Wait for them to drop shields and open tubes."

     Triple-A and tachyon fire clogged the space around the bombers as their defense computers automatically released clouds of chaff and decoy missiles.

     "They're throwing up too much flak!" Knight screamed. His Broadsword's starboard wing grazed the expanding edge of a Triple-A cloud. Rivets popped as the wingtip tore off, violently rocking the bomber. "I'm hit!"

     "Almost there," Taggart said, trying to calm the man. "Steady now. Steady."

     Tachyon fire chewed into Knight's Broadsword, tearing open its belly to expose wires and pipes. Knight released a strangled cry as the bomber, now engulfed in flames, shattered across the destroyer's bow.

     Taggart veered away from the flickering aftermath and vanished from Blair's screen.

     "Maniac? You got visual of Taggart?"

     "Negative. I think he booked."

     "And that dreadnought's opening her tubes," Deveraux said.

     Indeed, the huge vessel's tubes dilated open, and Blair beat a fist on his canopy. "Their shields are going down. We could've had them now."

     The dreadnought's bow, shaped like two pairs of clamps forming a cross, raised as she passed over the first destroyer's wreckage. From one hundred meters below, the destroyer's tattered hull still glimmered, conduits jutting out like jagged teeth through lingering gas.

     And from within that gas and those teeth, a ship appeared, a Broadsword, maneuvering thrusters firing to turn it up toward the dreadnought. "Baker leader. Get your fighters clear of the pulse wave," Taggart said.

     "Roger that. Maniac? Blair? Break contact. Return to ship," Deveraux ordered.

Part Five

James "Paladin" Taggart lifted a shaky hand to fire the Broadsword's two piggyback torpedoes. Then he touched another button, releasing the other two bombs from their belly racks. HUD reports indicated that all four of the mighty rockets had targeted the unshielded dreadnought.

     Holding his breath, he lit the afterburners and climbed away from the cap ship. His gaze locked on the scrolling numbers showing his distance from the dreadnought. He shook his head. He was still too close. Then a proximity alarm beeped. He looked up to spot the Jovian planet's third moon, its heavily cratered surface lowering into view.

     The torpedoes struck the dreadnought.

     A nanosecond later, the entire Area of Operations stood under a tent of intense white light for one, two, three seconds ...

     The light dimmed to unveil a huge explosion tearing through the dreadnought, its hull shuddering as the widening rings of the blast wave stretched into space.

     Caught unaware, the Kilrathi aboard the destroyer attempted to maneuver their vessel away from the wave, but the ship tacked only a few degrees before the blast wave hit. The destroyer tipped on its side, then collided with the first destroyer's hull, producing fires amidships that began cooking off its ammunition. An internal blast erupted through its hull, breaking off the bow in a fountain of sparks and jetting gas.

     Taggart's grin didn't last long as he tracked the blast wave coming up behind him. It swallowed his exhaust, seemed to gain momentum, then struck his engines.

     Displays crackled, fried, and went dead as the Broadsword groaned and took its beating. The bomber rolled, driving Taggart's head into the console. He felt the sting of a gash, and blood trickled into his eye. Blinking, he saw that the ship now barreled uncontrollably toward the moon. He seized the manual eject lever and jerked it down.

     After a double click and faint blast of air, the cockpit ejection pod shot free, slowly rotating away from the doomed bomber, pushed to the edge of the weakening shock wave by sputtering retros.

     The Broadsword impacted with the moon's surface in a cloud of ancient dust that would take days to settle.

     Before Taggart could regain full control of the pod, he found himself caught in the third moon's gravitational pull. Rocking to and fro, he increased retros and tried to pull up from the cratered uplands. The retros teased him for a moment, then whooped and fell silent. He threw a toggle several times, trying to reactivate them. "Well, it was fun while it lasted."

     As the gray and white surface hurtled toward him, he told himself that he had lived a glorious life, that he had inspired a young heart or two. James Taggart had accomplished what he had set out to do. He had lived the warrior's life and would die the warrior's death.

     Nothing could be more fitting.

     He grinned, remembering a few lines from his school days: "My mind misgives some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, shall bitterly begin his fearful date with this night's revels ..."