Band of Brothers: Chapter Five- - Sacrifices...


Here it is, Chapter Five.

Please forgive any mistakes in my Latin.


Chapter Five: Sacrifices

“ Kill ‘em!!!!”
With a roar, Jeremy Overstreet charged, slamming the butt-end of his M-47 laser rifle against the target. His arms ached as the heavy rifle hit home, denting the overstuffed dummy hanging in the middle of the New Mexican desert. Jeremy was sick to death of drilling. It seemed that was all he ever did. Even sleeping and eating, it seemed, were part of Sergeant Bragg’s perpetual torture the man called drilling. Jeremy was ready to drop dead right here in the middle of the desert if Bragg didn’t ease up. But, alas, it did not seem as if Bragg would ease up as Jeremy hoped. He just kept going and going, like some sort of android whose programming continued on an endless loop.
“ Come on, maggot, what do you think you’re doing? Giving it a back scratch?” Bragg taunted as Jeremy dove at the dummy again and again with the M-47. “ ‘Cause the way I hear it, the Kilrathi will be mighty glad to scratch yours in turn. Just be careful. Them Cats have claws.” Bragg let out a low chuckle that reminded Jeremy of dice rattling around in a cup.
Jeremy mumbled under his breath, so low that the sadistic drill sergeant did not hear, and attacked the dummy again, this time so ferociously that he damn near knocked the thing off its base. He let loose a howl of frustration and rage. Too bad Bragg did not know it was directed toward him. There were a lot of things Jeremy wanted to say to Bragg, but he just didn’t have the guts to. He was afraid they’d boot him back to St. Louis without a second though. Yeah, he though gloomily, Dad would just love that. He also suspected, however, that the couple dozen other recruits drilling around him were itching to take a crack at the son of a bitch, as well, but that gave Jeremy small comfort.
Bragg smiled that cadaverous smile of his. “ Good,” he said and Jeremy started to sigh in relief until the sergeant added, “ Do it again.”
Jeremy almost dropped his rifle. “ What?” he demanded. “ I damn near broke my arms off attacking this stupid dummy. I did it, though! I wrecked the thing. It’s dead. I’m done!” When he had finished, his mouth dropped open in shock. He had not planned to talk back like that, but it had just sprung unbidden from his mouth like a cat pouncing on a mouse.
“ What did you say to me, boy?” Bragg demanded in turn, rushing up and getting mighty close to Jeremy’s face. The eighteen-year old felt a cold sweat break out on his forehead. Oh, shit, what’s gonna happen now? he thought with unbridled dread. Foul breath pouring over Jeremy, Bragg, like a pit bull, snapped, “ No one ever smarts off to me! You got that?” Jeremy weakly nodded. “ I did not hear you, soldier!”
“ Sir, yes, sir!” Overstreet howled, so loud he was convinced the Emperor of Kilrah heard him.
Finally, Bragg backed off, but he still looked pissed as hell. “ Now do it again!” Jeremy did it again. And again. And again. He clobbered the stuffing out of that dummy until the sun was almost gone behind the horizon. When he was done with that, he attacked it some more. By the time he felt as if he would die, Bragg sent him off to the obstacle course. Stars were twinkling above, now, and Jeremy saw none of his comrades. They were probably in for mess. But here Jeremy was, still busting his ass just for the sadistic delight of Sergeant Bragg.
His breath coming out in ragged gasps, Jeremy raced through the course. He slid through the barbed wire strewn trench, conquered the Wall (the capital letter seemed appropriate to all soldiers at Scorpion Training Camp), and braved the daunting mine field. The field was an expanse of desert under which lied several dozen “mines”, sensors that detected even the slightest drop of sparse desert rain.
A couple hours later, Bragg, that grin still plastered on his craggy features, told him, “ Run it again.”
Jeremy’s mouth dropped open in disbelief. Again? He had already run the damned course at least a dozen times already. He had never been worked so hard in his entire life. Why was Bragg working him so hard, and not Velez, or Smith, or Hendrix for the screw-up at the Scorpion’s Lair? What did he do to deserve this? Steaming, he headed off toward the obstacle course’s start, but he stopped short. What had he done to deserve this? Nothing! That was the answer: Nothing! Bragg was just cruel, mean and cruel, to put Jeremy through this torture. “ No,” he said, one simple word.
“ What?” Bragg hissed, ready, it seemed, to pounce on Overstreet once again.
“ Just that!” Jeremy shot back. “ For the past two weeks you’ve done nothing but bully me, put me through this constant crap, making me feel this big.” He held his thumb and forefinger a millimeter apart to show what he meant. “ And I’ve had enough.”
To Jeremy’s surprise, Bragg did not get in his face like he had feared. Instead, he seemed strangely calm. Overstreet supposed he liked an openly pissed Bragg opposed to a poker-faced Bragg. At least then you knew what you were up against. Now, though… Jeremy did not know what to expect. Slowly, the drill sergeant said, “ You’ve had enough, eh? You think you’ve had enough? Well. What can I say?”
“ You can apologize.”
“ No,” Bragg responded, but Jeremy was not surprised in the least by that reply.
“ I’ll do even better than that.” With his trademark grin again spreading across his evil looking facing, Bragg removed his dark blue jacket and cap. He shifted his stance just slightly, putting his feet further apart and folding his hands into fists at his side. “ Attack me,” he challenged.
Jeremy stared wide-eyed at the NCO. Bragg looked ready to take on an entire platoon of Kilrathi, it seemed. “ I… uh… well…”
“ Don’t tell me you’re chicken, maggot?” the sergeant taunted. “ ‘Cause if you are, I’d be glad to send you back to Mommy and Daddy. I’m sure they’d be glad to see you fail…”
Bragg went on like that for some time, doing his damnedest to belittle Jeremy to the utmost degree. The young recruit ground his teeth in furor. What right did that bastard have? For a moment, Jeremy was taken aback. Who was he thinking about? Bragg… or his father? “ No,” he whispered, “ I won’t fail. I won’t fail!” With a roar of anger, Jeremy charged Bragg, his hands curled into claws. Although he expected to slam right into the big man, Jeremy found himself soon sailing into the air and landing just behind the sergeant. What the hell? he thought. That had been sudden. He hadn’t even felt Bragg’s slimy claws on him.
Nevertheless, he scrambled back to his feet and brought his fist up to connect with Bragg’s face. The man’s jaw seemed as if it was made of granite. “ You’ll have to do better than that, ape,” he said, reaching up to nonchalantly rub at the undamaged body part. Jeremy was more than happy to oblige. Thinking back to the moves he was learning in basic training, he began a swift combination that he aimed at Bragg’s abdomen and face. The NCO blocked each shot, eventually reaching out and flipping Jeremy over his back yet again. By this time, a good number of recruits were gathering around the lamp-lit parade ground, cheering Jeremy on as he launched again into another futile attack at the sergeant. He recognized the smiling face of Jesus Velez in the crowd.
“ I can’t fail,” he whispered, even as Bragg caught him in the face with a vicious right cross. Jeremy swore out loud as blood began to leak from his nose. It’s probably broken, he thought. Bragg lashed out with a foot, catching him in the shin, the wrist, and another, more sensitive, area. Groans greeted him as Jeremy crumbled to the dust. Stars burst in his vision as he tried to get up. He could not bring himself to stand. With a sigh, Sergeant Bragg dragged Jeremy roughly to his feet.
His cold gray eyes locked upon Jeremy’s pain-filled brown ones, the big man said, “ That’s why I’m making you drill, soldier.”
The next morning, Jeremy awoke with one hell of a headache. Jesus Velez supplied him with a strong painkiller, which he downed gratefully. The pain subsided quickly, but Overstreet knew it would not last. He suspected facing the business end of a Kilrathi Dor’chak laser rifle would have been more merciful than facing Sergeant Bragg again. Quite honestly, he did not want to get out of bed. Limping out to the parade ground just to see Bragg gloat would not be what he’d call a good start to the day.
But… If he did not go out there this morning, Bragg would figure he had defeated him. “ He won’t find Jeremy Overstreet that easy to beat,” he whispered while he pulled on his uniform.
“ What’s that, Germ?” Jesus Velez asked, but Jeremy merely shook his head to ward off the question.
Fifteen minutes later, after they had wolfed down their morning mess, they lined up in the parade ground. Sure enough, Bragg arrived a moment after them, looking a hell of a lot better than Jeremy did. By the way the sergeant acted, it seemed as if the fight last night had never happened. Jeremy supposed it was better that way. They quickly went through their morning exercises- - jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups, and a number of other aerobic and anaerobic activities. Jeremy found one good thing about his stay at Scorpion: He had dropped at least ten pounds of excess weight and was in the best shape of his life. The high nutrient, low fat diet they had him on helped keep his weight down, as well.
“ All right, listen up, you maggots,” Bragg said once they were done. “ Today, I’ve got a special treat for you. Today, we’re gonna climb Scorpion’s Peak!” He pointed ominously to a towering plateau in the distance. Jeremy’s mouth hung open. Jesus Velez reached over and closed it for him before it caught the attention of Bragg. Meanwhile, the sergeant still spoke, “ Nevertheless, I am not without what you would call mercy. We shall take a shuttle craft to the Peak, which straddles the Rio Grande, and from there proceed to the top. Our objective is to capture the Terran Confederation flag positioned at the top of the mountain. We are the Red Team, and must get to the top before Blue Team, under Sergeant Zim from the Lobo Camp, gets there. If we should lose, then I shall in turn make your lives living hells.” He smile turned chilly. “ More so than they are already.” The smile vanished. “ There will be obstacles along the way, and you, of course, will be supplied with an M-47 laser rifle, a C-244 pistol, a C-275 utility knife, grenades, a length of rope, rations, and a canteen. That is all you will be supplied with. Am I understood?”
“ Sir, yes, sir!” the Marines-in-training chorused.
“ Good. File out!” File out they did. After receiving their C-524 armor from the Quartermaster, a wily old coot named Hampton, the men and women of Red Team clambered aboard the atmospheric shuttle for transport to the Scorpion’s Peak. As the shuttle lifted off the landing pad, Jeremy gazed down at the desert below him. A coyote chased a small rodent nearby, and a vulture swooped in on a snake. Trapped behind the barbed wire of Scorpion Camp, Overstreet never got a chance to see the wonders the world around him held. But soon there’d be more to see. They’d rocket him up into space and send him up to the front lines. There’d be a hell of a lot more things to see then besides coyotes and vultures!
A few minutes later (opposed to the several hours it would have taken had they walked) the shuttle touched down at the base of Scorpion’s Peak. A similar shuttle landed a few moments later, disgorging the Blue Team from Lobo Camp, which was in southern California. One grunt from Blue called over to the Red Team, “ Hey, check out the babies! They just keep recruiting them younger and younger these days, don’t they?” The man’s friends laughed at that, but Jeremy did not. The heckler had to be Overstreet’s age, if not younger.
“ If anyone listens to them, I’m leaving you on the mountain!” Bragg roared, and Jeremy immediately turned away from Blue Team. Bragg got the Marines in order and briefly went over the scenario once more. When they got it, they began to hike. The heat, as usual, was sweltering, and Jeremy thought he saw vultures circling more than once. That made him a little uneasy. He had heard that vultures only circled when something, or someone, was ready to drop dead. He quickly shook of that unpleasant thought and continued to trudge up the mountain. Occasionally, they’d encounter the obstacles Bragg had warned of. Drones began to show themselves, and barbed wire, and gaps in the track. It all required teamwork, which the Red Team utilized remarkably well. By the end, Jeremy felt as if they could have taken on the entire Empire of Kilrah… almost.
When they did reach the top, he was expecting to see the folks from Lobo Camp gathered around the Confed flag, cheering and clapping each other on the back. But, no, there was no one at the top of the mountain. Jesus Velez was the first to jump up and cheer. Soon, the entire team was whooping and hollering in triumph, Jeremy included. Bragg did not seem to mind the break of formation, thank God. A moment later, an unhappy Blue Team arrived on the scene. Jeremy grinned and waved when he saw the heckler in the crowd, being chewed out by his own Sergeant Zim.
Sergeant Bragg gathered his team around. “ Look at it, maggots,” he said in an almost wondering voice. Jeremy followed the sergeant’s gaze. The sun was low on the horizon by now and stars were just beginning to appear overhead. The entire desert it seemed was spread out before Jeremy Overstreet and he suddenly felt as if he held the entire world in his hands. He knew he was exaggerating, but he didn’t care. The view, with the lights of Albuquerque and nearby Santa Fe lighting up the horizon as if it was daylight, was truly majestic. Bragg continued, “ This is what we’re fighting for. To preserve this wondrous, glowing world we call home. Makes you… kind of proud to call yourself a Terran. I know I don’t tell you guys this much, but you’re good men and women, and you’ll do the Confederation pr- -”
That was as far as he got. The rocks beneath Sergeant Bragg’s feet suddenly crumbled, sending the big man tumbling off of the top of Scorpion’s Peak. Jeremy was sure Bragg was dead then and there, but he held onto the side of the mountain with a vice-like grip. “ Shit!” he roared, looking down to the desert floor hundreds of feet below.
“ Shit!” Jeremy echoed, getting down on one knee and foraging in his pack. He pulled out a coil of rope and held it up for Jesus Velez to see. “ Velez, tie this rope to that big rock over there!” he roared, pointing to the aforementioned boulder. Jesus stared at him, dumbfounded. “ Goddammit, man, we can’t let the sergeant go over and die. Sure, he’s a despicable asshole, but it wouldn’t be right for him to die. Now he’s too heavy for me, so tie the fucking rope around that rock and be quick about it.” The other soldier did as he was told, tying the one end of the rope around the boulder while Jeremy tied the other end around his waist. When the rope was secure, he raced over to the edge. Bragg was losing his grip!
“ Hang on, sir!” Overstreet hollered, getting down on his belly and holding out his arm. Dammit, he was just a few inches out of reach! “ Reach up and grab my arm, Sergeant! Hurry!” Bragg reached a shaky hand forward to clasp Jeremy’s own, but the rock that he had been holding crumbled just as the rocks he had been standing on had crumbled. Jeremy strained against the rope and barely caught Bragg’s meaty arm. Shit, Jeremy thought, the guy weighs ten tons! “ I’m gonna pull you up now, hang on tight!” He turned toward Tim Hendrix, Mikhail Leonov, and Jesus Velez. “ Guys, help me out!”
The three other recruits nodded and clutched the rope, which had gone taut at this point. With the might of all four of them they pulled as hard as they could until, finally, they dragged Bragg back onto the mountain. Jeremy quickly untied the rope around his waist and went back to check on the sergeant. The big man was covered in a white dust and had a cut on his forehead, but other than that he appeared fine. “ You okay, Sergeant?” he asked Bragg.
Bragg hauled himself to his feet. “ I’m fine, Mr. Overstreet.” Raising his voice, he called to the other Marines around him. “ I’m calling in the shuttle. Let’s get back to base.”
Suddenly, something occurred to Jeremy Overstreet. “ Wait, sir, what did you call me?”
Smiling, Bragg continued to walk.

The skies of Arcturus VI were ablaze with apocalyptic fury, washing the once pristine heavens in blood-red torment. Douglas Edison found himself running, although he did not know how he had arrived in this position. And yet he ran, ran as fast as he could through the smoldering streets of Bootes City. Where… hell, he did not know where. Something was leading him somewhere, that much Douglas did know. Somewhere nearby, an antimatter rocket slammed into a residential area, flattening ten blocks instantly. The shockwave lifted Edison up and flung him like a rag doll in a hurricane.
Shaking himself off, Major Edison continued to run. All around him, people were hanging dead out of their windows, their flesh scraped clean of their bones. Doug couldn’t make any sense of that, and so he kept running to his mysterious destination, wherever that was.
“Servate me! Servate me! Est terminus! Est termina nostrum vitae!” a voice shouted. Edison jerked his head in that direction. An old man, his flesh hanging loosely from a frail body, hobbled toward him with an outstretched hand. “ Spectate!”
Knowing a little bit of Latin, Douglas did as he was told, peering down at the old fellow’s palm. He drew back in terror. Floating over the hand was a small image of the Antietam, surrounded by dozens of Kilrathi fighters. Soon, in a blinding instant, the carrier erupted into fiery ruins. “ Meus deus,” Caesar whispered in horror, uncontrollably speaking in Latin. He took another look around the burning city.“ Est terminus?”
“ Est terminus,” the old man said, ignoring the question. “ Est terminus.”
“ Padre!” a young voice screeched. Douglas looked up. The old man was suddenly gone. The major now found himself before a collapsed building, fires raging all around it. Trapped inside were a young, blond boy of about twelve and a pretty, dark-haired woman about Douglas’s age. “ Christopher! Margaret!” he roared, racing toward his trapped family. He had to save them! He continued to run toward the burning structure, positive that this was where he had been drawn. A great fireball suddenly belched forth, blinding Douglas momentarily.
When he had regained his sight back, he found himself in the cockpit of a Rapier heavy fighter, watching from above as a Kilrathi battle group laid waste to Arcturus VI. He stared in horror as four nuclear warheads slammed into Bootes City, lighting up the radar display like a new sun had dawned. He tried to cry out in anger and dismay, but no sound escaped his lips. Suddenly, his vision blurred. When it cleared again, he was still in the cockpit of his Rapier, but in orbit above Trk’Harna IV. The Antietam was under attack, much as it had appeared in the vision in the old man’s palm.
“ Cupimus auxiliam!” young Zach Garner at Communications roared, even as a missile slammed into the ship’s superstructure, tearing a gaping hole into the carrier. Doug looked down at his radar. It was swarming with red blips, but he could detect no blue ones, only the blood red ones and the big gray one representing the Antietam. He was alone. Grim resolve overcoming fear and anger, Major Edison pushed afterburners to full and yawed toward his carrier, opening up on the Drakhris with full guns and missiles. Explosions speckled the void as Douglas reached out and plucked his ship from the brink of disaster.
Then why couldn’t he save Arcturus VI? Why did he just sit there as those mangy, flea-bitten vermin flattened Bootes City? Douglas suddenly felt disgusted with himself, but… Suddenly, as if from nowhere, an orange blip blossomed upon his radar screen. Douglas craned his neck around to see a massive Ralatha destroyer disgorging a cloud, it seemed, of torpedoes. The warheads raced across the void, until they impacted upon the Antietam, shattering her into a million smoldering chunks of metal.
Instantly, he was no longer in the Trk’Harna System, watching the Antietam’s demise, but in Bootes City, at a picnic in the park, he and his family on a great big blanket. He looked around in confusion. The terror that had gripped Arcturus VI just a few moments ago, it seemed, was gone, replaced with a quiet serenity. Birds chirped, children squealed with laughter. It would have been perfect if…
“ You failed us, Major,” a voice said, no longer in Latin. Wondering about that, Douglas whipped his head around in that direction. Scrambling up a hill, blackened and shriveled as if from a fire, was Justin Overstreet and Donald Ruth. Douglas’ mouth hung open in horror as they drew near. What right did these… zombies have intruding upon his peace like this? “ Go away!” he shouted, but they would not listen. Justin’s burned corpse staggered toward him, reaching out and touching him with a clawed hand. Overstreet’s grip was like molten lava, sending through Douglas a pain so intense that there were no other words to describe it. As the pain consumed him, Douglas Edison could have sworn he saw the sun and the moon converge in the sky, taking the form of two eyes, strangely feline…
Doug jerked awake, flailing about in his sheets for a good thirty seconds before he finally regained his bearings. What the hell had that been all about? he wondered as he scrambled out of bed. He plodded to the small bathroom of his equally small cabin. On the way, he glanced at the chronometer. Damn, he thought, 0215. After using the head, he looked himself over as he was washing his hands. He had bags under his eyes and he looked a little thin and pale. “ Damn, you’re one ugly son of a bitch,” he whispered to himself. The stress of command had been getting to him, what with the losses of Tucker and Shelby. Then there was the constant worry of his family, if they were safe or not… And then again there was that dream. That strange, horrifying dream.
To Douglas, it seemed, it represented… what? A possible future perhaps? Could the Antietam be in danger at this very moment? Had the dream been prophetic or… merely a dream? Doug had never taken dreams too seriously before, but for some reason, this moment, he could not help but do so. A Kilrathi destroyer was on its way to the hapless carrier. Douglas wasn’t about to sit on his ass and let the Cats triumph. If he did that he would fail his friends, fail the Confederation, fail himself.
With a sigh, he got into his uniform. The Antietam was damaged, in the asteroid belt, and would not have a snowball’s chance in hell if the Imperial forces from the fourth planet of the Trk’Harna System decided to launch an attack now. The Ralatha was on its way, he knew for some reason. The dream be damned, he nevertheless knew his carrier was in trouble and he was determined to do something about it.

Slowly, he took the lift down to the flight deck. He looked around. When it was dark, with no one around, the chamber seemed monstrously large. As a kid, he had gone spelunking in the caves of Procyon 2. They had seemed to go on forever to Douglas. They had… awed him, was the word that came to mind. Walking out on the flight deck minus the hustle and bustle of ordinary launch gave him that feeling again, making him long for the days when he was just a “Space Force brat” in Sol Sector.
But those days were gone, long gone. That was why, now, he was in this predicament. If he somehow got out of this alive, which he didn’t feel too likely, he’d probably be facing a big, fat court-martial right in the mug. He was sneaking out after hours to… Well, he didn’t want to think about that now. Detaching himself from what he was about to do, and letting the autopilot take him to where he had to go would keep him from flipping out and returning to the Antietam. That, of course, would spell doom for not only himself, but for the carrier, as well.
“ I can’t back down now. I’m committed.” He thought back to the day before, when he had given his precious locket to Justin Overstreet. He still did not know the exact reason why he had done that, but he had done it. Did I, he thought glumly, know even then that something like this would happen? Did I know I’d be pushing up a daisy soon? With a shudder, he stopped thinking about that. Clear your mind, he told himself again. Just do this. You’ll save a lot of lives. Yours is of no consequence right now, not compared to the Antietam crew and the Ghorah Khar rebels here in Trk’Harna.
He finished sealing up his flight suit, gauntlets, and boots, and grabbed his helmet from the rack. He grinned at the thick headgear, as he always did when he prepared for a mission. It was a gaudy thing. Painted gold, it featured a proud Roman noble, draped in a violet toga, a ring of laurel leaves crowning his head. The noble had his arm outstretched in victory. Under the word “Caesar”, written in classic Latin, proudly displayed the words, “ I came, I saw, I conquered.” For the life of him, he would not allow the Kilrathi to come, see, and conquer. He would… die to prevent that.
Stop it! he scolded himself once more. As he was scrambling toward his Broadsword bomber, he heard footsteps coming from the vicinity of the ready room. A flashlight beam splashed against the walls. “ Hey, who’s down there?” a stern voice called.
“ Shit,” Douglas whispered. “ MPs.” He turned back toward the Broadsword’s hatch. “ Please enter authorization,” a cool voice intoned. Douglas did as he was told.
“ I am sorry,” the computer responded, “ you are not authorized at this time to open this hatch. Only the Captain and Wing Commander may do that.”
“ Override, damn you, override!” he hissed, even as the footsteps of the security officer sounded louder. The MP was on the flight deck now. Edison was suddenly glad the bulk of the A-17 hid him from the grunt. He furiously tapped in his code again.
“ Access denied,” the AI said.
With a barely contained sigh, Douglas tore off the panel and reached in a gloved hand. The gauntlets made it hard to hotwire anything, but he did his best. When he thought the MP’s flashlight would catch him like a deer in the headlights, the Broadsword’s hatch swung open and Douglas raced in, carefully to seal the door behind him. As the bomber was sealed, the MP splashed his light over the heavy craft. When he didn’t see anything he shrugged and turned away.
That was too close, Douglas thought. “ Now let’s get this baby off the deck.” That wasn’t as easy as he had thought. After a couple tries, however, he got past the security measures and powered up the bomber. As the bewildered MP raced back onto the flight deck, screaming and waving his arms, Major Douglas Edison jammed the afterburners to full and went out on his final mission.

Kalahn Sidak nar Ki’ra paced the bridge of the KIS Horak, the Ralatha destroyer he had the pleasure of commanding. “ Pleasure?” he murmured, sitting down and scraping his talons against the padded arms of his command chair. “ This is a little better than commanding a garbage scow on the edge of nowhere, but only a little.” He hoped no one heard him, but with the ruckus on the bridge right now, he was not overly concerned with that matter.
And to think, he thought, I could be a Kalralahr right now, commanding great fleets of the Empire’s best ships against the accursed Terrans, Sivar damn them to hell. But, no, here I am in the middle of nowhere trying to keep an almost nonexistent rebellion in line on a world that held no significance militarily mere months before! What has become of my career?
Sidak had been an officer for nearly forty years. He had held the rank of First Fang when the fighting started, commanding a Dorkir, and his career then had looked promising. Never once had he received an “unsatisfactory” on his efficiency reports, not once. Yes, he had been moving up rapidly and many had believed he would make Kalralahr in no time. But he had lost it all once grim day twenty-five years ago. His Dorkir, the KIS Gel’Vadu, had been ambushed in the Hell’s Kitchen System by a wing of Terran Tridents and Hurricanes. That had left a big, ugly black mark on his record and defeated any chances of him making Kalralahr. Praise Sivar, Sidak had barely made Kalahn!
At least they didn’t stick a commander with my experience in a Dorkathi. I’m lucky to have the Horak, but I still deserve a damned promotion! I’m wasting away here! He ran his claws through his graying mane. Literally, at that.
But there’s no more time for that. Duty calls. Kal Shintahr Vicka nar Hhallas, the garrison commander at Trk’Harna IV (who also happened to be twenty years Sidak’s junior) had ordered Sidak and the Horak to rendezvous with the KIS Bix, a Kamekh corvette, and eliminate the Antietam, the Terran carrier providing Korag’s rebels assistance in this system. The Horak’s sister ships, the Jelak and the Kim’Bri, had been destroyed by the Terrans the day before, and so Sidak was stuck with the dirty deed of striking down a helpless vessel. There was no honor in that, he felt, and no challenge; the Antietam would be caught totally by surprise. It is Jak-tu, Sidak thought. But, no matter what he thought, it was his duty as a warrior of the Empire.
The Horak had already rendezvoused with First Fang Bekkar nar Sihkag and his corvette. Sidak shuddered. To think, they’d paired a noble male of the Ki’ra clan with a mongrel from the Sihkag clan, considered of the lowest blood! All this because of a petty incidence in Hell’s Kitchen all those years ago.
He dwelled over that some more as the two ships headed out toward the asteroid field. When Sidak was feeling more melancholy than usual, Third Fang Shu’Kah at the Radar Station spoke up, “ Kalahn, I’ve detected a small object moving toward our position!”
Sidak moved to the edge of his chair. “ It’s speed, Radar Officer?” he asked, trying to sound as calm as he could. His gloomy, woeful self was replaced with that of the commanding officer of his vessel.
Shu’Kah checked his screen. “ Three-hundred twenty KPS, my lord!”
“ What are we looking at here?”
“ Checking transponders… Got it! It’s a Terran bomber, a Broadsword.”
So the Terrans had detected them after all, eh? With a growl, Sidak yelled,
“ Weapons Officers, what are you waiting for? Blast that thing out of the sky!” The commander of the Horak leaned back and sighed. It seemed the Terrans were playing with a little Jak-tu of their own.

“ Lieutenant Overstreet and Major Noble, please report to the bridge immediately! This is an emergency!” the voice of Lt. Commander Warren Jerome boomed from the Antietam’s P.A. system.
Justin sighed, pulling the sheets away and standing up. He rummaged around in his locker until he found his uniform and slid into it. He passed through the rows of cots toward the bulkhead, but noticed John still asleep. With another sigh, Justin nudged the major. “ Sir!” he whispered, not wanting to wake up any of the other pilots. “ Sir!” he whispered more urgently when Noble failed to wake up.
“ Wha…?” the dark-haired pilot murmured when Justin finally succeeded in rousing him out of bed.
“ Captain wants to see us on the bridge, I guess. Looks like top priority.”
“ All right. Let me get my pants on,” John replied, now fully alert. When they were both presentable, Justin and John made their way to the Antietam’s bridge. Saluting, Major Noble said, “ Reporting as ordered, sir.”
Donald Ruth returned the two men’s salutes. He had a worried and urgent look etched upon his face, which terrified Justin to a small degree. “ What’s up, Captain?” he asked, desperate for answers.
“ We… have a critical situation, gentlemen. As squadron X.O. and the next in line for that position, I felt it best to bring this to your attention,” Ruth said. “ It appears that Major Edison has stolen a fully loaded Broadsword bomber and has fled the Antietam.”
Without thinking about it, John Noble ground out, “ Shit, he’s a Mandarin! He’s gonna talk to the Imperials on Trk’Harna IV! I’d bet he was the one who blew up the flight deck.”
“ Hey!” Justin shot back. “ Let’s not get hasty here. Doug Edison is no Mandarin! You should know that more than anyone, John, you guys were in the same Academy class and have served together ever since. If you’re going to start pointing fingers at the Major, then point ‘em at yourself, too.”
“ Calm down, gentlemen,” Ruth said, placing a hand on John’s shoulder. “ Major, I’ll have to agree with Lieutenant Overstreet. Major Edison is not part of the Society of Mandarins. Repeat: Douglas Edison is absolutely not a member of the Society of Mandarins. I’ll hear no more of that.” With a shake of his head, Captain Ruth pressed a PAD into Justin’s hand. “ Here, Lieutenant, he left this to you.”
His heart racing, Justin thumbed the computer slate on and read:
Dear Justin,
If you’re reading this, I’m gone by now. I don’t really know how to say this, but…here goes. I had a dream, kid. A horrid, disgusting, vile vision that left me feeling cold inside. In it, I saw a… I don’t know… a prophecy, I guess. The Antietam’s in danger, Lieutenant, I just know it is. Now normally I would look at that and think it’s nothing but bullshit, but there was something about that dream. It struck something within me and I just know I have to do what I’m about to do. The ship’s in no position to defend herself from a frontal attack by a Ralatha, we both know that. If that destroyer gets within range of the Antietam, you’re goners. Look, don’t feel bad for me, kid. I’ve lived a good life. Now let me go out with a bang. Just make sure my family knows I was thinking ‘bout them when it happened.
Your Commander,
Major Douglas Edison, TCSF
Normally, Justin would have stared at the letter in horror for a good five minutes, but there was no time for that now. “ Goddammit, he’s going to ram that bomber into the Cat destroyer! He’s gonna kill himself! Captain Ruth, we have to stop him.” Before Donald could answer, Justin threw down the PAD and raced toward the comm station. He ignored Lieutenant Garner’s fuss when he pushed the other man away. Dialing up the Broadsword’s frequency, he yelled, “ Major Edison, don’t do this! We’ll launch fighters. We’ll take on the cap ships that way, just- -”
“ Forget it, Lieutenant,” Edison said. “ That would cost the lives of too many pilots, something that’s… well, something that’s unacceptable.” Surprisingly, Caesar laughed. “ You’ll make a hell of an X.O., kid. Just do me a favor. Get that locket to Christopher. If it’s the last thing you do, make sure he has it. Fare well, Justin. Sock it to those Cat bastards.” And with that, he cut the connection.
“ Nooo!!” Justin shouted, the word drawn out into one angry screech.
Captain Ruth pressed an intercom button. “ Mr. Kabrowski, can we launch a missile? Disable Edison’s Broadsword so an SAR can bring him back in?”
“ Sorry, sir, he’s out of range. A missile wouldn’t travel that far,” Mordechai answered sullenly. Everyone on board the Antietam loved the Major, but there seemed to be nothing they could do to stop his end run.
“ Captain, I have him and the Kilrathi cap ship… no, cap ships on radar,” Mollie Finster announced. Ruth rushed over to the board. Sure enough, the small blue blip raced toward the orange blips that were the Ralatha and a Kamekh, gallantly avoiding the deadly hail of flak. “ Damn,” the C.O. whispered. Justin just stared in horror. There was nothing else he could do. There was nothing he could possibly do to stop this madness.
Racing back to his central chair, Donald Ruth opened a link to the engine room.
“ Chief Hornby, full thrusters! Get us to that destroyer!”
“ Sir, we’d never make it- -” Chief Petty Officer Max Hornby began.
Ruth cut him off. “ Do it!” he shouted. “ And make sure that tractor beam is operational!” He cut the link, leaving Hornby to reluctantly carry out his orders.
“ Operations, get me Douglas’ bomber on vidcam!” Under his breath, he muttered, “ I just hope we make it in time.”
“ Sir, Major Edison’s shields are failing!” Finster cried. “ We don’t have much time.”
Defeated, Donald Ruth hung his head low. “ Jesus Christ,” he whispered. “ God damn it all to hell. Chief Hornby, full stop.”
Justin shot daggers at the Captain. “ Why you son of a bitch! You’re just going to let Major Ed- -”
“ Enough, Lieutenant. It’s over. I know it stinks, but that’s how it is in war. You win or lose, the difference is only an eyelash,” Ruth snapped, not caring if Overstreet got the allusion or not. “ I’m sorry, but if we continue on our present course, I’ll be putting the Antietam in danger. One pilot isn’t worth that.”
His hands clenched into fists, Justin ground out, “ I’ll show you what one pilot’s worth, you bastard…” Simultaneously, John Noble and Warren Jerome were on him, grabbing him by the elbows and pulling him away from the Captain.
“ He’s going up!” Mollie announced. Captain Ruth held his hand up to his eyes as the Broadsword slammed into the Ralatha’s superstructure, creating a brilliant explosion that soon consumed the entire destroyer once the armaments the bomber held cooked off. The Kamekh corvette attempted to flee its mother ship’s demise, but it was caught in the Ralatha’s explosion and destroyed as well. It would have been a great victory, if only…
Justin Overstreet gently shook off the grasps of Jerome and Noble. His hand strayed up toward the locket that Douglas had trusted to him. Even when he had given it to him a few hours before, he knew he was going to die somehow. And now Douglas Edison was dead. He had saved the Antietam, granted, but… now what? Wiping away the tears threatening to overcome him, Justin staggered off in need of a good drink.
Donald Ruth watched the kid go and sighed. Not only did he just lose a good commander and friend, Justin Overstreet suddenly had the responsibility of Executive Officer of the Battling Bastards, whether he wanted to or not, thrust upon him. Nevertheless, Douglas Edison had just given his life to buy the Antietam time for repairs, and Ruth was bound to use them. “ Helm, get us back to the asteroid belt, so we can finish up repairs. Tomorrow, we’re going straight in for Trk’Harna IV, come hell, high water, or the Emperor and his whole goddamned Imperial Fleet.”

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited October 30, 2000).]
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The first part is good. I like. But the second part... well, I find "prophetic" dreams a bit hard to swallow.

Hmm, did you notice, btw, that in Tooth & Claw, he died differently? Shot down by a Sartha, as I recall. It's a pity that you changed that, actually. Still, it's your choice, and in spite of that criticism, it wasn't actually as bad as you think
. Maybe a bit short, is all.

Yes, that's it. It all happened too suddenly. Couldn't you maybe add one or two scenes in there?
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Yes, in T&C, Chris says Doug was shot down by a Sartha, but Spyder also had Doug's locket in my previous story. I've changed a few things for dramatic purposes. Writer's perogative.
Oh, why is it a pity. I like my "heroic" death for Doug.

Yes, it is tad short. I have a rule: Once a chapter is 20 pages I can post it. Usually, I have a lot more to add to that 20 pages, but not here. But I've seen published novels with chapters a few sentences, so I didn't do too bad...

The dream was prophetic and it wasn't at the same time, you see. The whole "ultimatum" thing was merely a nightmare; It was meant to test Douglas's "strength", so to speak, but he was so "strong" that he detected the hidden danger within the dream and... That doesn't make any sense, does it? Nah. Thought not. Sorry.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Well, the thing about heroic deaths is that they have to have very, very good reasons. Otherwise, they just don't seem believable. I mean, you don't go kamikaze just because you had a bad dream
. You lead a strike force of Broadswords instead

I know the ultimatum thing was just a nightmare - but the Kilrathi strike force wasn't. That's all that bothers me

BTW, how did he know which approach they would be taking? Did the dream include coordinates?

See, this is exactly why you need to add another section in there
. I know that his kamikaze run was supposed to be a surprise to the reader, but maybe it shouldn't be. Maybe you should have a section where the Major tries to make sense of the dream, and realises that even if the whole ultimatum thing is false, the Antietam would still have no chance against any strike force, which is bound to be coming, dream or no dream. He could be thinking about that as he boards the Broadsword

Anyway, I won't keep bothering you about this
. Writer's perogative, as you say
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I might add something like that... maybe.

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

Added a couple of scenes, one with Doug, and another with the captain of the Ralatha, Sidak.

I also fixed a couple of things I didn't like in the existing scenes. All in all, I think I've polished Ch. 5 up pretty well.

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 30, 2000).]
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Hmm, shouldn't Vicka be Vikha? 'Ck' is very rare in Kilrathi words.

Also, be careful with your other Kilrathi names. You make them too soft - a true Kilrathi would have trouble saying Gel'Vadu

Right, that's a bit better, anyway
. I still don't like the way he knows there's a Ralatha and a Kamekh coming. He should at least be surprised when the Kamekh appears... I mean, it's fairly obvious that the Kilrathi would send out a Ralatha, but the Kamekh...

Oh, you do realise that the Kilrathi would have send the Kamekh on a different approach vector, so that the Antietam gets squashed between the two of them? But of course, even the Kilrathi make mistakes

What's Jak-tu? I don't recall seeing that term anywhere.
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Jak-tu: War of surprise. It's in Action Stations.

I'm not going to be too concerned with minor details at this point, by the way, such as Kilrathi names and such. Maybe later, once I finish the story, I can go back, but not now...

Also, I don't think there's anything wrong with clairvoyance. It could happen. As a fact, Abe Lincoln had a dream where he had been shot dead just before John Wilkes Booth killed him in 1865. Just something to think about...

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 30, 2000).]
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Yeah, but he obviously didn't see Booth shoot him, or he would've managed to avoid it
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Actually, he just saw himself dead on a slab with a bullet wound in his head, but I was desperate for an analogy.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Okay, I've chosen appeasement.
I've taken away the one reference to Doug's thinking a Kamekh's on its way before he actually sees it.

If there are any others, please let me know.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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A brief look revealed two more
. One in his dream, and another in his letter.
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One in his dream, two in his letter. Oops.

Anyway, got 'em taken care of.

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


[This message has been edited by Quarto (edited July 02, 2000).]
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Minor rank change for our old friend Vicka. Nothing of importence, really.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Whaaat? Another cut and paste!

This is not one of those specials anymore!

<BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Arial">quote:</font><HR>Turn me loose, Colonel.
This is what I live for!
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