Wing Commander Junior Novelization Chapter 6

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Chapter 6
Book Wing Commander Junior Novelization
Parts 1
Previous Chapter 5
Next Chapter 7
Pages 29-31
Source Wing Commander Chapter 6 (combined)

Dramatis Personae

Part 1

Christopher Blair


Jeanette "Angel" Deveraux
Todd "Maniac" Marshall
James "Paladin" Taggart


Paul Gerald
Unnamed Blonde Tech
Unnamed Marines (2)


MARCH 16, 2654
0130 HOURS

Blair steered the Diligent down toward the great capital ship Tiger Claw. The Claw, as some called her, was shaped like a long, gray cylinder that had been split in two then glued on to a rectangular structure that was her runway and hangar bay. Inside the bay was the flight deck where small ships were berthed and repaired, and that was where Blair landed.

     Five minutes later, Blair and Marshall left the Diligent and were checked in by two Confed Marines. After that, Blair suggested that they wait for Taggart to at least say good-bye.

     "Now that," Marshall said, "is humorous."

     Blair dropped his duffel. "I'm waiting."

     With a hand on his brow, Marshall paced for a moment, then slipped off his own duffel. "You're right. We should wait. I'm not finished with him."

     After a sigh over Marshall's threat, Blair had a look around. Rows of starfighters and bombers stretched off into the distance. The strong smell of heated metal, jet fuel, hydraulic fluid, and burning rubber hung heavily in the air, despite the best efforts of the ship's recyclers. While civilians would crinkle their noses at the smell, Blair smiled. I'm home. He touched a bulkhead next to the lift doors and came upon a patch welded there. Then he noticed dozens of other patches. "You've seen a lot of action," he whispered. "Guess you'll see a lot more."

     "Hey, what are you doing?" someone familiar asked.

     Blair turned in Taggart's direction. "Waiting for you. Just wanted to say thanks for the lift."

     The captain paused before them. "Well, gentlemen, don't think I haven't enjoyed your company."

     Marshall bore his teeth. "We won't. Sir."

     Not wasting a second on Marshall, the captain focused on Blair. "I'm headed for the lift over there," he said, tipping his head toward the doors fifty meters away. "See you. And good luck."

     Lifting his duffel, Blair said, "Ill walk with you."

     "I won't," Marshall said.

     Blair hurried after the captain. "Marshall? I'll meet you back here." He didn't wait for the expected reply and finally caught up with Taggart. "Before you go, tell me about your tattoo."

     "You know what it is?" Taggart asked, lifting his voice over the whine of power tools.

     "I think I got it figured out. It's a Kilrathi marker. You were a prisoner of war."

     "I was on the Iason when they took her."

     That caught Blair off guard. "The Iason? She was the first ship to have contact with the Kilrathi. You served under Commander Andropolos?"

     Taggart nodded. "We encountered a spacecraft of unknown origin, transmitted a wide-band, nonverbal greeting, and waited. Four hours later she fired upon us with all batteries. But you know the story."

     "Yeah. And I know there weren't supposed to be any survivors from the Iason."

     "I guess not."

     They reached the lift doors, which slid apart. Taggart stepped inside and turned around.

     "Why don't you have it removed?" Blair asked, staring at the captain's tattoo.

     "Let's just say it helps me remember."

     "Remember what?"

     "Why I fight."

     The doors began to close.

     Blair stepped forward. "Wait. I've seen photos and holos, but what do the Kilrathi look like? I mean, in the flesh?"

     "They're ugly. Good luck."

     The doors sealed.

     "Right," Blair muttered, then hurried back to the other lift, where he found Marshall staring at a blonde tech whose smooth skin seemed out of place with her greasy coveralls. She stood beneath a Broadsword bomber, taking apart one of its mass driver cannons with a power wrench.

     "I don't see the XO," Marshall said.

     "I can see why."

     "Maybe she can help." He strutted toward the woman, his boots barely touching the deck.

     Blair rolled his eyes, then wandered toward a row of Rapier starfighters. He came to the first fighter, number thirty-five. He pictured himself in the cockpit, diving onto an enemy ship's tail, locking target, and--

     He fought off a chill and lifted a computer slate from a rolling tool cart. The slate showed the fighter's mission status. Her next pilot had yet to be assigned. Not bothering to read more, Blair set down the slate and hurried up the cockpit ladder. He made sure that no one watched, then climbed into the cockpit.

     Although the instrument panels were dark, he could easily imagine the left Visual Display Unit reporting battle damage, the right VDU showing options for the vidcom system and the targeting screen. The circular radar display, just left of center, showed a wave of red blips above him. "Break and attack," he told his ghostly wingman.

     "Two Dralthis on your tail--one above, one below."

     Blair felt a jolt in his gut, then looked down toward the person who had spoken. She stood nearly as tall as he and was about his age, maybe a little older. Her shoulder-length hair was a deep brown laced with gold curls. The shadows beneath her eyes and streak of lubricant on her cheek did not take away her beauty. However, the oil-stained disposable plasticine coveralls she wore weren't very fashionable. With a socket wrench in one hand, an xray scanner in the other, she raised a thin brow and continued: "You've got five, maybe ten seconds--the clock is ticking. What do you do?"

     "Simple. I go vertical and inverted, do a one-eighty at full throttle, apply the brakes, and drop in behind them."

     "Bang. You're dead. Not fast enough. Dralthis are too quick--particularly in a climb. You've just taken a missile up your tailpipe."

     Blair felt surprised by her tone. No lower-ranked tech had ever spoken to him this way. What did she hope to prove?

     "Okay. Reverse the situation," she said. "You're locked on a Dralthi. It goes evasive, enters an asteroid belt. Clock is ticking."

     With a loud snort, Blair pointed ahead. "I'm locked on. There's such thing as evasive because--"

     "Bang. Dead again. It's an ambush. Five or six fighters hide behind rocks the size of your swollen head and pounce you."

     An intense heat washed into Blair's face, and he balled his hands into fists.

     She set down her tools and began untying her coveralls. "What's the matter? Did I bruise your ego?"

     "No. I'm just not used to getting combat tips from a grease monkey."

     As the words left Blair's mouth, he saw her step out of the coveralls to reveal her blood-red flight suit. "I'm Lieutenant Commander Jeanette Deveraux--your wing commander. You have a name, nugget?"

     Blair straightened and saluted her, not that his after-the-fact respect would mean anything. "Lieutenant Christopher Blair, ma'am."

     "Well, Lieutenant, if you want to play at being a fighter pilot, I suggest you find a virtual fun zone. Meanwhile, step down from the Rapier."

     Feeling as though his face would burst into flames, Blair rose and set foot on the cockpit ladder. As he descended, he noticed the pilot's name in bright yellow letters along the pit's edge: LT. COMMANDER VINCE "BOSSMAN" CHEN. Twenty-six Kilrathi paws representing kills had been set in neat rows beside the name, a scorch mark slashing through them. "Ma'am, the mission slate said this fighter was unassigned. I apologize. I didn't realize it was Bossman's."


     "Lieutenant Commander Chen. Bossman." Blair gazed back at the Rapier. Had he read the name correctly? Yes, he had.

     Deveraux's face creased even more.

     Puzzled, Blair crossed to the tool cart and lifted the computer slate. "If this fighter's not his, then who got these twenty-six kills?"

     She wrenched the slate from his hand. "What are you doing on the flight deck, anyway?"

     "Looking for the XO," Marshall said, arriving at Blair's side.

     Shifting her gaze to the far end of the flight deck, Deveraux nodded to a tall officer. "You found him." She turned on her heels and walked away.