Band of Brothers: Chapter Two- - Revelations...


Here's chapter two...


Chapter Two: Revelations

Tingvallir System
Sol Sector
Roan Quadrant

A brilliant flash of blue momentarily blinded Khasra nar Kiranka as his Grikath heavy fighter jumped the void. He bared his canines behind his flight mask. Excellent, he thought, everything is going according to plan! His wing jumped into the Terran-controlled Tingvallir System on the edge of Sol Sector. Khasra never thought he and his squad would successfully make it into Tingvallir- - he had had his doubts since that bastard the Emperor had ordered the behind-the-lines assault- - but here they were now, on approach to the main colony. Still, Khasra wished that he was flying a Strakha- - the cloaking device would surely come in handy on this mission. But, no, the brain-addled bastard, the Emperor himself, had deemed the Stealth fighters too much of a strain on the Empire’s war budget and so Khasra was flying a clunky Grikath into the heart of enemy territory.
“ Keep radio silence, Slaughter Wing,” Khasra whispered. “ I wouldn’t want to draw undue attention to ourselves before we reached our destination.” He knew it was useless, however, because any Kilrathi vessel snooping around Sol Sector was liable to be detected and received with something less than a warm welcome. Still, Khasra would try to keep anonymity as long as was possible.
As Khasra impatiently counted down the distance until Slaughter Wing reached the main colony (he was convinced it would take an eternity or two- - the acceleration of the heavy fighter was particularly poor), he reflected briefly on his current position within the Empire. He was of the Imperial line, of course, a cousin to the Prince Thrakhath. Still, he was none too please with the way the war was being run by that senile old fool, the Emperor. He had expressed these thoughts to Thrakhath at times, but the Prince would not hear of it, shouting warnings of “Treason!” and the like. And so, for the most part, Khasra kept his thoughts to himself, fulfilling his duty as a pilot ace. One day, however, he thought, one day I shall become something far greater.
His reverie was interrupted when something trilled on the Grikath’s console. They were nearing the main Terran colony in this system. “ Slaughter Wing, stay tight, I’d say the chances of our being found out is quite good at the moment.” And, sure enough, four red blips blossomed on the radar display: Ferret patrol fighters. Khasra once again bared his canines, this time to express his bloodlust. The Ferret was no match for the superior firepower of the Grikath heavy fighter. He keyed the radio once more: “ Once we engage those Terran light fighters, we shall proceed toward the main colony and complete our mission!” The Ferrets were too close now. “ Break and attack, my brethren! For the glory of Kilrah!!”
“ For the glory of Kilrah!” the squadron shouted in unison as they broke formation and dove toward the oncoming Terrans. “ Stay sharp back there, Warg,” he spoke to his gunner, who crouched behind Khasra in the turret. Even as he spoke, Warg was firing a stream of neutron bolts across the flank of an enemy fighter.
Khasra dove sharply as a flurry of mass driver rounds skimmed across his port shields. The damage was light, however, so the ace was not fazed. He quickly inverted and rolled, bringing the Ferret into his gun sights. The targeting brackets settled onto the patrol fighter and Khasra stabbed a claw on the trigger. Lances of energy lanced out from his guns, shredding the Ferret into slag. Khasra growled in triumph. Behind him, Warg pumped neutronic energy into another Terran craft as it passed, but the Ferret was soon smoldering medal as it came into contact with a well-placed Friend-or-Foe missile from Vagargk, Khasra’s wingman. That seemed to be the last of the attacking Terrans.
“ Kilrathi spacecraft, leave our airspace immediately, or we will destroy you!” a strangely accented voice exploded from the radio. “ I repeat: Kilrathi spacecraft…” With a grunt of annoyance, Khasra silenced the comm. “ These Terrans are quite a bore, aren’t they?” he asked Warg, who chuckled appreciatively. “ Slaughter Wing, be prepared for a new wave of Terran fighters. Proceed toward the surface of the planet and commence bombing.”
Wingtip to wingtip, the four Grikaths of Slaughter Wing broke through the light cutter guarding the planet and sliced through Tingvallir’s atmosphere. Wisps of clouds danced past his canopy. Khasra preferred the crimson, thundering clouds of home. “ Another reason why we should slaughter the lot of these hairless apes,” he whispered to no one in particular. Soon, the cloud cover dropped away and the entire colony was laid forth for Khasra to see. There wasn’t much to Tingvallir, he realized. He wondered why the Emperor had ordered its bombing in the first place.
Triple-A fire began to spear dizzyingly close to the heavy fighter, and Khasra sent Vagargk to take out the antiaircraft battery that was causing them grief. When his wingman returned, Khasra ordered the final stage of the mission: the bombing of Tingvallir. “ Arm warheads!” he snapped as his Grikath raced over the verdant landscape of the colony. He spotted several tiny dots pointing in dismay: Terrans. The fools, he thought viciously, they have no idea what is about to fall on their heads. When he got to the specified drop zone, Khasra opened the connection to his wing again, made sure his bomb was armed, and barked, “ Launch bombs, and let’s send these Terran apes to the depths of hell where they belong!” With a growl of triumph, Khasra nar Kiranka slammed his claws down on the firing trigger, releasing the ten-megaton nuclear bomb onto Tingvallir colony.

Jeremy Overstreet threw down his bicycle and raced into the living room.
“ What’s happened?” he yelled. His parents, James and Heather, were clustered around the family holovid, fear and anger etched upon their middle-aged features.
The 18-year old’s mother, who seemed on the verge of tears, gestured toward the softly glowing box illuminating the suburban home. All Jeremy saw was devastation. Scorched earth that stretched for miles. Twisted, blackened scarecrows, their teeth startlingly white in their skulls. Jeremy suddenly felt dizzy and reached out a hand to steady himself. “ Good Lord,” he whispered. “ Christ! It was the Kilrathi, wasn’t it?” He didn’t need to see his father’s slow nod to know the answer to that. The Kilrathi were getting increasingly belligerent each day and it was only a matter of time before they reached Earth, the high school student was convinced.
He ran a hand through his thick auburn hair. He noticed he was shaking. Goddammit! Those fuckers will pay! he thought, not daring to say the profanity aloud for fear that his father would slap him across the face before shoving a bar of soap down his throat. He opened his mouth to say something, but noticed that the reporter was speaking.
“ Tingvallir Colony. Once a thriving economic hub for the Confederation. Now, yet another casualty of war. Tingvallir is not the first victim of the Kilrathi’s constant belligerence and malice, but it serves as a poignant reminder of the horrors of war. Four ten-megaton nuclear warheads have devastated the once beautiful landscape, killing thousands of innocent Confederation civilians and military personnel instantly. And yet more thousands will perish in the weeks, months, and years to come from the everlasting radiation poison wrought by these cruel machinations of death and hate.
“ Horror and fury has erupted throughout the entire Confederation in what is even now being called the Tingvallir Massacre. Rear Admiral Sir Geoffrey Tolwyn had this to say at a press conference this morning on the Concordia:”
The head and shoulders shot of Barbara Miles was replaced with that of Admiral Tolwyn, commander of the Fourteenth Fleet. The Admiral always had an air of regal superiority about him, Jeremy thought, what with his steal gray hair, neatly trimmed mustache, and billowing crimson cape. But there was also something else about Tolwyn that chilled Jeremy to the bone. Something cold, something mysterious… perhaps even something dangerous.
Meanwhile, Tolwyn was speaking in that clipped accent of his known across the Confederation: “ War. The grimmest and most vile behavior of men. And yet we find ourselves among war. Never ending war, war that eats at the very heart of what we hold dear. The Tingvallir Massacre shall always remind us of this, and today shall forever remain a day that will live in infamy. But, you ask yourselves, what can I possibly do about this? Well, I shall tell you this: donning this uniform will be the most rewarding thing you have ever done. I shall look forward to seeing you on the battlefield—“
James Overstreet stabbed off the holovid in disgust. “ How likely of that saber-rattling bastard to spout that trash. I say if it wasn’t for warmongers like him, we could have ended this war a long time ago.”
Without thinking, Jeremy rounded on his father. “ That’s bullshit!” he snapped.
The color in the elder Overstreet’s face drained away at his son’s outburst. With a sharp crack a hand swept across Jeremy’s cheek. Heather cried out in dismay and buried her face in her hands. “ Watch you mouth, young man!” James roared.
“ But it’s true!” Jeremy shot back, rubbing at his stinging face. “ Tolwyn is more Terran than you and I combined, and you should know that. If it wasn’t for heroes like him, this war would have ended a long time ago, but with us under the Kilrathi’s boots. We need men like him, Dad, or we’re all doomed!” With that, he turned on his heel and began to walk off.
“ Where the hell are you going?” James demanded.
“ To the nearest recruiting office,” Jeremy spat over his shoulder.
The balding lawyer grabbed his son’s elbow before he could leave the house, however. “ Like hell you are,” he ground out. “ I already lost one son to this damned war, I’m not about to lose two.”
Jeremy angrily shook off his father’s grasp. “ Justin’s as good as dead to you, isn’t he, Dad? Well, then consider me dead, too.” And with that he stormed out of the Overstreet home, climbed back onto his bicycle, and pedaled into St. Louis.

The next afternoon, Justin walked into the Antietam’s rec room in a somber mood. He had just returned from Lieutenant Tucker’s memorial service and the entire squadron was a little on the down side. After the depressing funeral on the carrier’s flight deck (a throwback to the old burial-at-sea tradition of Earthen navies), Paul’s death was now fully felt by the pilots. Even Frosty was in a particularly gloomy mood. And they still haven’t had their chance to get back at the Kilrathi. Soon, Justin thought, soon we’ll give it back to the bastards, times three.
Justin stepped up to the ad hoc bar in the back of the room, which was actually an old helm console. “ Set ‘em up, Joe,” he said with a wry grin. Getting plastered felt like a good idea right now, and to hell with the repercussions.
But Joseph Flannery, the beefy, carrot-topped barkeep, shook his head. “ Sorry, lad,” he said in that lilting Irish brogue of his, “ but the Antietam’s on full alert status, as our dear Colonel told us yesterday. No booze today, lad. Sorry.”
Justin groaned. “ Shit. Well, then give me a moo-juice.”
“ One milk coming up, Lieutenant darling,” Joe said, filling a shot glass with the frothy white liquid. “ I know you’d rather have a whiskey, but we wouldn’t want you going up in that cockpit soused, now would we? ‘Sides, alcohol’s bad for your health.”
Justin took a sip of the milk. “ Now if that’s not irony, I don’t know what the hell is, Joe.” The barkeep laughed good-naturedly as Justin took a seat at a vacant table. Well, there’d be no anesthetic today, but he could deal with it. He’d had enough grief in the last couple of days to give a depressant a run for its money.
He sat alone for a couple of moments before someone slid in across from him. It was Pete. He cradled his own glass, filled to the brim was an amber liquid. At first, Justin thought Decker had somehow smuggled some Scotch into the rec room and was ready to raise hell over it, but he soon realized it was just apple juice. “ Well, sir, mighty depressing, ain’t it?” he asked, shaking his head.
Justin sighed, wishing more than ever for a drink. “ Paul… was a good friend.”
“ Yeah, but I was talking more about that,” Pete stressed, leveling an index finger past Justin’s shoulder. The wing commander whirled. Together, their faces dangerously close, sat Ryan Yan and Natalie Maximus. “ Damn sad.”
“ Meaning, Lieutenant Decker…?” Justin asked, putting just the slightest edge in his voice.
Pete snorted. “ Oh, come on, MadDog! Look at those two! Why the hell does Dragon get a girl as… as perfect as Natalie Maximus? Man, I’d gladly give up my flight wings to get her into bed.”
“ Is that all you think about, Decker? Sex?”
The younger pilot took a healthy swig of his apple juice. “ Damn straight, Justin, me boy. Well, that and killing Cats. Look, I’m a guy, right?” There was no denying that, Justin thought. “ I want… no, nix that… I need female companionship. So many of the other guys have it. John and Mallory are basically a single entity these days. There’s the couple of the month, Yan and my girl Natalie over there. Major Edison’s married, as is Froggie. Hell, it seems we’re the only two losers on this boat.”
Justin ground his teeth together. “ Thanks,” he hissed. “ But, you know what they say, there’s someone out there for everyone.”
“ Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Pete said, suddenly serious. “ But I don’t think I’ll find her. A pilot’s life expectancy isn’t as good these days as it once was. Not with the war on. I mean, look at Paul Tucker.”
“ Don’t go making a down payment on that farm just yet, Pete,” Justin replied. “ We’ll get through this thing, man, and when it’s done you’ll find a girl for you. Hell, if the gods are feeling especially generous, so will I.”
A small grin spread across Pete’s stubbly face. Justin relaxed. He wasn’t normally the ship shrink, but if he could help anyone under his command, then bully for him.
“ So,” Decker said, his old self again, “ what do you think of that ensign we brought in yesterday. What’s his name? Valentino?”
“ Vanzetti,” Justin corrected. “ Yeah, I don’t know, Pete. He almost seems genuine enough, but there’s just something not quite right there. I can’t place my finger on it.”
“ Been listening to Boyar’s stories of conspiracies and Mandarins too much, eh, sir?” Pete said with a big, toothy grin. “ Eh, forget it, man. Let Captain Ruth and Colonel Drake care of it. Like Major Edison said, all we can do is fight.” That seemed to be the running theme throughout the squadron this week, Overstreet thought.
A few minutes later, Colonel Drake came over the ship P.A.: “ All pilots report to the briefing room immediately! Repeat: All pilots report to the briefing room immediately!”
Justin and Pete stood up. “ Well, that’s our cue,” Overstreet said with a wry grin. The two Echo Wing pilots followed the crush of men and women out of the lounge and down the hall toward the briefing room. The briefing room was perhaps the most feared building on the Antietam, second to perhaps the Colonel’s office. It was here that the pilots would learn if they would live or if they would die. Paul Tucker had been present here just before he bought the farm. Justin wondered if the next mission he flew would be his last, as he always did before a mission. But he shook it off. If all he did was concentrate on death, then he wouldn’t be flying long.
He took a seat near the front of the room, standard seating for Edison’s Battling Bastards, as the squadron had been dubbed. Pete plopped down next to him, as did Froggie Duchamp and Captain Shelby, who flew under the callsign of Gnome. “Gnome” seemed to fit the short, bulbous-nosed X.O. “ So, you have any clue how we’re going to put our lives on the line this time, Monsieur Captain?” Maurice asked in that fine accent of his.
Wilber shrugged, the azure material of his uniform rustling as he did so.
“ Damned if I know, Lieutenant,” he said. “ Whatever it is, you can be almost sure that it has something to do with that radarman you picked up yesterday.”
“ Vanzetti?” Justin asked. “ What’s makes you say that, sir?”
Wilber shrugged yet again. “ Well, let’s just say that our dear Ensign left a lot of… let’s say questions swimming around in Colonel Drake’s head. Drake wants answers, and he wants them quickly. Our job is to seek out those answers.”
“ Colonel on the deck!” John Noble shouted as Casper Drake strode into the briefing room, resplendent as always in his pressed uniform. “ As you were,” the Wing Commander ordered and the pilots of the Antietam’s flight wing instantly relaxed.
“ I know you’re all just itching to get back at the Kilrathi for what they did to Lieutenant Tucker, and I assure you that you’ll get your chance soon.” A low ripple of approval washed over the assembled pilots. “ I like that enthusiasm. Now, onto today’s assignments…” Drake proceeded to doll out missions, but Justin only paid half-attention until the Wing Commander got to Echo Wing.
“ Lieutenant Overstreet,” he was saying, “ you will accompany Lieutenant Frost’s Charlie Wing as they proceed through the Heinlein System in search of the remains of the Vicksburg. Once again, Major Edison will fly on your wing. Your primary objective is to recover the Vicksburg’s ship’s log for review by Captain Ruth and myself. Long-range scanners have detected no Kilrathi presence in your specified nav route, but you should not rule it out. Now, Major Noble’s Foxtrot Wing…”
Fifteen minutes later, the briefing was over and Justin proceeded to the squadron ready room to get into his flight gear. As usual, the sheer weight of the gear staggered him, but it did not bother him as much as it had when he was a mere nugget. When he was through, he retrieved his helmet (emblazoned with his callsign and a snarling, slobbering bulldog) from the rack and made a beeline toward his Sabre. His crew chief, a blond, bubbly Spacehand name Rachel Coriolis, came up to greet him.
“ What’s up, sir?” she asked.
“ Well, we’re going out with Frosty to tow in the Vicksburg’s data recorder. Hopefully, our comm guys can crack it open and learn more about why she went down,” Justin replied, but that was all he knew so did not elaborate.
Rachel nodded in understanding. “ This has something to do with that ensign you brought in yesterday, hasn’t it? What’s his name? Vitorio?”
MadDog laughed out loud, remembering Pete’s trouble with the name.
“ Vanzetti,” he corrected. He gestured toward his fighter-bomber. “ Now, as long as you don’t mind…” Rachel took the hint and moved out of the way, shouting for the rest of Overstreet’s crew to clear out as well. Overstreet smiled as he climbed through the hatch into the Sabre’s cockpit.
Soon, the deck tractor rolled over and dragged Justin to the launch zone. The Launch and Recovery Officer, a Hungarian CPO named Szilard, gave the signal and Justin rocketed out of the Antietam’s flight deck. Soon, Echo and Charlie Wings were assembled around him and he gave the signal to get underway. He didn’t know what they were going to encounter out here on this mission, but he suspected he would soon find out. The sweep of the first nav point proved rather dull, with neither Kilrathi contact nor the discovery of the charred husk of the TCS Vicksburg. Justin yawned behind his helmet. “ Echo Wing, proceed to Nav Two,” he droned, just as Frosty gave the same order to his Charlie Wing.
They hit the autopilot and took the journey across the cosmos to the second waypoint. When he retook manual control, Justin saw a swarm of red blips appear on the radar display. “ Whoa, what have we here?” he asked as he called up the enemy craft’s ID signature. Drakhri medium fighters. “ Echo Wing, positive enemy contact at twelve o’clock. Looks like a wing of Drakhri. Do we engage, Major?”
“ Affirmative,” Caesar responded. “ Echo, Charlie Wings! Lock and load!”
Calls of acknowledgement raced across the radio frequency as the two flights from the Antietam broke wing formation and dove headlong into the oncoming wave of Kilrathi fighters. Justin stared in dismay as a DumbFire came his way. “ Shit!” he barked, pulling sharply to port. The Dart harmlessly passed beneath his Sabre, detonating a couple of klicks away.
He pushed up the throttle and rushed toward the Drakhri that had fired the missile at him, dropping the reticule on the Cat fighter and opening fire with combined mass driver and particle cannons. The alien looped and inverted. Justin’s Sabre shuddered as lasers began to stipple his port shields, raising blue sparks whenever they did. The Terran dove. The Drakhri responded by sending another Dart missile his way. Feeling rather cocky for missing the first DF, Justin juked left and right, trying to throw the warhead off. But it was an act in futility, because the missile struck his aft shields, throwing his heavy fighter around like a rag doll in a squall. Justin turned the spiral his Sabre had fallen in to a barrel roll, ending up on the tail end of the Kilrathi fighter.
“ You are worth less than the dung on Rikar 3!” the beast spat at him. As was his wont, Justin merely laughed in its face and cut the connection. The Sabre’s AI dropped the crimson targeting brackets upon the Drakhri’s image on Justin’s HUD. With a grin, Justin slammed down his thumb on the firing trigger, watching in triumph as the Spiculum I-R homed in on the Kilrathi craft and tore it into slag.
Justin pumped a fist into the air. “ Yes! That was for Paul!” he shouted, initiating a victory roll. But the small distraction allowed yet another Kilrathi medium fighter to land on his tail, splattering his rear shields with laser fire. Overstreet pulled sharply to port and starboard to throw off the pest, but the Drakhri stayed on him as if it was attached to the Sabre with an invisible claw. “ Goddammit,” Justin muttered under his breath, setting the fighter-bomber on autopilot and crawling back into the turret. It suddenly occurred to him how damned frightening it was to be squeezed back in that little space, watching a monstrous enemy fighter hovering directly above you. But he shook off the fear, reached forward, and took the control yoke in his hands. He dropped the reticule over the Cat and pumped neutron energy into its front shields. But the Cat bastard was stubborn. Even as his front shields began to wear down against Justin’s unrelenting neutron bombardment, the Drakhri continued to pump lasers into the Sabre’s rear.
However, the power of the neutron gun was far greater than that of the laser, with better penetration and increased energy expressed in nanojoules. The Drakhri began to break up, with large slabs of golden metal flayed from the flanks of the Kilrathi fighter. Quickly, Justin returned to the Sabre’s cockpit and hit the afterburners as the Drakhri broke up in a tremendous explosion. “ There’s two for you, Paul,” he whispered as the rest of Echo Wing formed up around him. That seemed to be most of the Kilrathi, with Dragon and Natalie from Charlie Wing taking care of a few stragglers. When they were triumphant, the Terran pilots from the Antietam autopiloted to Nav Three. They still had a mission to complete, after all. If they didn’t find the Vicksburg, then Colonel Drake would not be a happy camper.
When they arrived at Nav Three, Justin immediately noticed the twisted, blackened husk floating silently among a belt of asteroids. Among it were scorched slabs of metal that were once golden: the destroyed Ralathas of which Vanzetti had spoken. “ Looks like we have it, Major. Is that or is that not the TCS Vicksburg?”
“ Confirmed, Lieutenant,” Caesar responded. Suddenly, something trilled on Justin’s console. Edison must have gotten it, too, for he said, “ Looks like we’ve got company, boys and girls. Stay sharp, scanning… Transponders identify it as a Kilrathi ship. A Lumbari transport by the looks of things.”
Luke Frost spoke up, “ Yeah, and looks like a wing of Dralthi IIs as escort. But why the hell is a lone Cat transport here in Heinlein. I mean, to whom could it possibly be of any use?”
“ Perhaps it’s left over from the Ralatha squadron Ensign Vanzetti said the Vicksburg took out,” Natalie suggested.
“ It wouldn’t stick around for three whole days, would it?” an incredulous Pete asked.
Justin shook his head. “ No, I think there’s something about this asteroid belt here. Something about which Vanzetti knew, but wasn’t letting on.”
Major Edison asked, “ You don’t think he’s being absolutely truthful, Lieutenant?”
Lieutenant Overstreet wondered if he should speak his mind to the squadron commander, but then reasoned the worst thing they could do to him was a stiff dressing down, something that Justin was intimately familiar with. So he said, “ I think we all have that doubt, sir. Maybe it’s Boyar’s crazy stories making us paranoid or something I don’t know.”
“ Hey!” Gorbunov responded indignantly.
Justin continued as if the pilot had not even spoken, “ But there’s something about his story that doesn’t add up. No one human would have thrown this guy into an escape pod if it meant his or her own death. I’m sorry, but people aren’t that generous. And the Vicksburg would have detected anything that could’ve knocked her out of the picture like that.”
“ You have some interesting ideas, Lieutenant,” Caesar responded. “ Perhaps we should discuss them with the Colonel when we return to the Antietam?”
Rather apathetically, Justin replied, “ You’re the boss. But, for now, what shall we do about the Lumbari?” He noticed the transport with its fighter escort was close now. Too close. If they didn’t react now, they’d surely come under fire from those Dralthis.
“ We still need to get that data recorder for analysis by our comm techs, so keep an eye out. I’d like to keep that Lumbari intact though. If what you say is true, Lieutenant Overstreet, then whatever is in that ship could give us the answers to any questions we may have,” Douglas said, always the voice of reason. Honestly, Justin had not thought of merely disabling the Lumbari like that. He would have gone gung ho on it, fragging it to hell, times three. Well, he thought, that’s why Major Edison’s a better commander than I am. “ Eliminate the fighter cover and then target the engines. Remember: Disable the Lumbari. Do not destroy her.”
The Kilrathi transport came into view then, its bulbous anterior end mounted on a blocky body. Justin highlighted the image on his HUD. Sure enough, like Luke had said, six Dralthi IIs hovered around her, like worker ants around their queen. Justin grinned at his analogy even as the Dralthis broken formation and dove at the Terran Sabres. “ Break and attack!” Edison ordered. The Dralthi pilots escorting the Lumbari were obviously not the Imperial Elite. Justin laughed out loud when an enemy medium fighter at twelve o’clock began dancing around like a leaf in the wind, as if to distract MadDog from his task. The Sabre’s AI twittered at him and Justin launched an FF at the erratic Dralthi II. The fighter tore apart into millions of glittering fragments.
The luckless Kilrathi’s furious wingman dove down on him then, pelting him with mass driver rounds. His Sabre shuddered under the impact, but Justin inverted and performed an Immelman, looping around toward the Dralthi. He opened fire with full guns, tearing into the Dralthi’s armor. Mass driver rounds struck the Cat fighter’s reactor, creating multiple explosions that ripped it to shreds. His path cleared, Justin locked his sights on the Lumbari’s aft end. The transport pattered uselessly at him with a laser turret, but it did nothing to deter him from his goal. “ Pete, keep these bastards off my tail, I’m going in!” he barked, annoyed that the Dralthis were taking potshots at him.
“ Your wish is but my command, O Lord,” Pete quipped, cutting through the Kilrathi that had been given Justin grief.
Justin laughed at his friend’s ability to keep a sense of humor even during the most hectic of battles (which this one certainly wasn’t). The targeting reticule settled over the Lumbari’s engine compartment and glowed fiercely red. Justin called up an ImRec. “ Fox Three!” The Spiculum dropped from his starboard missile hardpoint and homed in on the Lumbari’s engines. A fierce yellow-orange fireball rose from the transport’s aft section. Justin yanked the stick into his gut, pulling away from the explosion.
“ The Lumbari’s out of the picture!” he yelled, perhaps a bit louder than he should have. But adrenaline was running through him like lightning through a conductor.
Suddenly, Captain Ruth’s gray-haired visage appeared upon the VDU. “ Good job on that Lumbari, people,” he said, causing Justin some indignation. After all, he alone had taken the transport out. There was no “I” in “team”, however. Meanwhile, Ruth continued, “ The Antietam’s sensors are detecting a massive EM signature from that Lumbari, much greater than it should be carrying. I’m sending out Lt. Col. Markham’s Marines to see what’s on that ship. Continue with your recovery of the Vicksburg’s data recorder. Antietam out.”
“ You heard the man,” Major Edison said. “ We’ve taken out the Dralthis and the Lumbari, so begin your search for the ship’s log.”
Justin began to cycle through all available targets. It was, quite frankly, the equivalent of looking for a needle in a haystack. The asteroid field was littered with material. Finally, he found something, a little yellow dot on his radar. He pointed his nose toward the target. When he got close enough, the AI identified it as the Vicksburg’s data recorder. “ I have positive identification. I’m tractoring it in.”
“ Merde, MadDog, when are you gonna give us the chance to do anything?” Froggie Duchamp demanded good-naturedly.
Justin chuckled as he moved back into the turret. He was certainly having a great deal of luck today. First the Lumbari, and now this. “ Hell, maybe I’ll get that promotion I’ve been waiting for after all.” He locked onto the little black box with his tractor beam and thumbed the triggers, dragging it into the Sabre’s hold. “ I have it,” he announced, returning to the cockpit. “ What are your orders, Major?”
“ Return to the Antietam. Decker and Gorbunov will accompany you. Meanwhile, we’ll remain here until that Marine LC arrives,” Caesar said.
“ Yes, sir,” Justin replied.

When the three pilots had left for the Antietam, Major Douglas Edison took that time to enjoy the silence. After all, a combat pilot’s life these days was one percent serenity and ninety-nine percent hell. Doug could not for the life of him remember the last time he had had a decent break from the war. Sure, there had been shore leaves to Arcturus VI to visit Margaret and Christopher, but they had been heart-breakingly brief and the war had still always seemed foremost on his mind. He wondered why they were even fighting this damned thing.
For thirty-one long years, the Terran Confederation and been locked in mortal combat with the imperialist aggressors of the Kilrathi Empire. Douglas’s father, Lieutenant General Martin Edison, had fought at the Battle of McAuliffe, and Douglas remembered being so frightened when he was a kid. Would his dad return from the latest fleet action? Would the Edison family receive one of those damned “ We regret to inform you…” letters? Those thoughts and more had haunted Douglas’s years as a child and he feared he was plaguing Christopher with these destructive thoughts. Douglas fingered the gold locket he wore around his neck, which held a picture of his young son. It seemed this was the closest link to Christopher he had these days.
KRA-BOOM!!! Douglas felt his Sabre tumble end over end as a tremendous explosion rocked the heavens. “ What the hell?” he ground out, retaking control of his heavy fighter. For a moment, he thought it was the Lumbari brewing up, but then realized the Kilrathi transport was in one piece.
“ Look!” Natalie Maximus shouted. Douglas looked. A nearby asteroid had broken apart into even smaller asteroids. What the hell was going on? Soon, he found out the answer to that puzzling question. The asteroid hadn’t been a real asteroid after all, but a façade for a weapons battery of some sort. It consisted of a disk-shaped base painted the blood-red color the Kilrathi seemed to enjoy, with a massive cylinder positioned on top of that.
Shit, he thought. The barrel of the gargantuan gun began to rotate toward the Lumbari. Whatever was in that ship, the Kilrathi surely didn’t want it to fall into Confed hands. “ Charlie Wing! Fire upon that weapons platform! Take it out now! Now!” Douglas got in gear, arming his missiles for full salvo and pushing the afterburners into the red zone. If they didn’t knock that bastard out before it locked onto the Lumbari, then the Antietam would be back to the drawing board. Tiny turreted lasers began to fire upon him and the other Sabres as they drew near. They splashed ineffectually against his front shields.
“ Launching!” Frosty roared. A trio of ImRec missiles dropped from Luke’s wings, slamming into the gleaming body of the battery. An explosion blossomed from the detonations, but they did nothing to destroy the platform. Ryan and Natalie added their own missiles to the mix, but the heavy gun, while slightly damaged, was still functional, nearing the completion of its turn. “ Fox Three!” Doug ground out, launching a deluge of missiles and pulling up.
The Kilrathi weapons platform began to brew up, roiling with a fiery fury as it was torn asunder. The explosive rounds inside the barrel cooked off, converting the gun into a dispersing cloud of gases and metal. Charlie Wing whooped in triumph. Douglas added his own voice into the mix. He was more curious than ever now to find out what was in that Lumbari.

With a hiss and a roar like Ragnarok, the airlock ground open and Justin stepped into the interior of the Lumbari transport. When Gus Markham and the Marines had brought the ship back to the Antietam, Captain Ruth had agreed to allow Justin to accompany him onto the ship. The commander of the carrier’s Marine contingent and Colonel Drake also boarded the ship. There was no danger, or at least none they could see, for the Kilrathi crewmembers had already been taken to the bridge. Nevertheless, Markham had an M-47 laser rifle slung across his shoulder and the weight of a C-244 pistol felt good against Justin’s hip.
Justin had never been inside a Kilrathi ship before, and it found it an enlightening experience. The Kilrathi didn’t seem so omnipotent and daunting now that he realized they built their ships just like people did, that they didn’t emerge from the nether realms like some pilots thought they did. Hell, he thought, now that I’ve been inside a Cat ship, the next thing I need to do is meet a Cat in person!
“ Sir,” Justin whispered to Captain Ruth, “ do we have any information on that weapons battery hidden inside the asteroid belt?” Major Edison had told him about the alarming turn of events after he and Charlie Wing had returned to the Antietam. Who would’ve thunk it? Justin thought. Perhaps it was one of those batteries that had taken out the Vicksburg. Still, though, Justin didn’t wholly trust Benito Vanzetti. He expressed this opinion to the C.O. of the Antietam.
Ruth shrugged. “ Once we hack into the Lumbari’s computer files, we’ll have another talk with our good Ensign Vanzetti. But about those weapons batteries. Our scans have discovered several of them within the vicinity of that asteroid belt, and we reasoned that whatever it was that the Cats were carrying on this ship were to repair, or perhaps build, one of the platforms. Lieutenant Garner uploaded a virus that rendered then ineffective for the time being, but we’ll see how long that lasts.”
“ Yes, sir.” By that time, they had arrived at the Lumbari’s cramped little bridge. Captain Ruth made a beeline toward a computer console against the wall.
“ Now, since our Kilrathi friends were less than cooperative when Colonel Markham rounded them up, I’m going to enter the standard decryption algorithm into the ship’s computer core.” Ruth shrugged. “ I’m not sure if it will work, but here goes nothing…” The skipper cracked his knuckles and got to work, his fingers flying over the Kilrathi keypad as if they had a mind of their own. Ruth’s prowess with Cat technology was truly astounding.
A moment later, with the three other men hovering over his shoulder, Ruth let out a resounding, “ Yes, we’re in business!” He pointed to the computer screen. “ The algorithm worked. The Cat bastards were damn careless if whatever they had on this ship was so valuable. Here… a captain’s log on the battle between the Vicksburg and that Ralatha squadron.”
Justin silently read the report:
“ Battle report, KIS Vedurag, Kal Shintahr Vago nar Kur’u’tak commanding. At precisely 0832 Kilrathi standard time, the Vedurag received a communiqué from Kal Khantahr Kalorg nar Hhallas of the Ralatha destroyer KIS Poklar, confirming that the attack upon the Terran Waterloo-class cruiser, the TCS Vicksburg, would commence. I ordered Second Fang Bodareg nar Kur’u’tak to pull the Vedurag away from the main engagement. I knew what was about to happen, but I am not sure if the crew was. Kalorg’s Ralathas were destroyed by the Terran cruiser according to plan. Our Mandarin operative on the Vicksburg then contacted me by means of coded bursts. Whether or not the Terran captain on that ship discovered them is beyond the point. I entered my access code then and our hidden weapons battery opened fire on the Vicksburg, destroying her. It is the opinion of this Kilrathi that the Terrans were utterly clueless as to their fate. I then ordered Fourth Fang Mar’kong of the Vedurag’s Dralthi escort to locate the escape pod that would contain our Mandarin operative. Perhaps its locator beacon was damaged in the Vicksburg’s explosion, I do not know, but Mar’kong was unable to recover the pod. I then ordered the Vedurag to pull back. We will return to the site later in an effort to recover our operative.”
Ruth whirled toward Gus Markham. “ Colonel! Send a team to Ensign Vanzetti’s cabin and haul his ass to the brig!” He grinned wryly at Justin. “ Well, we have our answers now, Lieutenant. Let’s go.” The four men raced back toward the shuttle that had taken them over to the Vedurag. When Justin was seated at the helm and piloting the boxy little vehicle back to the Antietam, a great fireball belched forth from the flight deck. “ What the hell?” he barked. “ Captain! Get in here!” He called up the Antietam’s frequency. “ Antietam, what’s happened!?”
A garbled voice sudden exploded from the comm, “ We’re not sure, Lieutenant. Something exploded on the flight deck!” Justin had figured as much, so he didn’t need Lieutenant Commander Warren Jerome, the ship’s X.O., to tell him that. “ Wait a second, we’re getting confirmation from the flight deck…Chief Coriolis has confirmed that a bomb as been detonated on the flight deck!”
“ What?” Captain Ruth gasped as he came into the shuttle’s cockpit. “ Commander Jerome, our daily sweeps of the flight deck surely would have detected an explosive of some sort. Why the hell didn’t it?”
Justin could picture Jerome’s shrug. “ I…I don’t know. The only liable answer to that question, Captain Ruth, is that someone smuggled the bomb into the flight deck after the security sweep.”
“ So between 2400 and 0500 hours then. Commander, did Ensign Vanzetti leave his cabin at all last night, for any reason?” Colonel Drake asked.
“ I’m sorry, Colonel, security concludes that Ensign Vanzetti stayed in his cabin all night,” Warren Jerome responded.
Ruth sighed and ran a hand over his weathered face. “ Damn. He probably tampered with the security system.”
“ Can he do that?” Gus Markham asked.
“ Who the hell knows what these Mandarin bastards can or can’t do, Colonel?” He turned back toward the shuttle’s console. “ Warren, what’s the situation on the flight deck?”
“ Chief Coriolis has locked down the fire. You can land, sir.”
Donald clapped Justin on the shoulder. “ Take us down, Lieutenant. Let’s see if we can’t make some sense of all this madness.” Overstreet did as he was told, bringing the blocky shuttle down on the flight deck. He noticed a vast stretch of it was scorched black and a bulkhead had caved in from the explosion. Vanzetti would pay, that was sure.
When they had touched down, the four men raced toward Vanzetti’s VIP quarters on Deck C. No one objected to Justin’s following along. Even though he was a measly 1st Lieutenant, the brass hats seemed to accept him as one of their own. But when they reached the Mandarin’s cabin, a sizable throng had gathered around it. Major Edison, he noticed, was among them. “ What’s going on, sir?” he asked the squadron commander.
“ See for yourself,” Caesar responded.
Justin and Captain Ruth pushed through the crowd into Vanzetti’s cabin. The radarman lay sprawled out on the rug, his pajamas crumpled and his complexion pale. A doctor crouched over the fallen ensign, sighing and putting his equipment back into his bag. “ Doctor Kelso, what’s going on?” Ruth demanded.
Kelso looked up at his commander with brown eyes. “ He’s dead,” he stated simply, nodding toward Vanzetti.
“ Dead?” Justin exclaimed, hardly believing it. “ How?”
“ Honestly, Lieutenant, I do not know. He was in relatively perfect health the last time we checked on him, but now it seems as if his body has just… given up,” the doctor replied. “ We should place his body down in the morgue until we can get him to proper medical facilities for autopsy. I just don’t have the proper equipment on board the Antietam.”
Ruth nodded. “ Of course, Doctor. How long as Vanzetti been… like that.”
“ Well, from the level of cellular decayed being displayed here, I’d say at least twelve hours.”
Justin felt his jaw drop. “ That was an hour before the security sweep of the flight deck,” he cried. “ And I was so sure Vanzetti was the traitor!”
“ He may have been, Lieutenant, but now that he’s dead, we have to figure he has an accomplice on board the Antietam,” the C.O. replied. “ It’s a frightening thought, I know, but we cannot rule it out. We shall continue operations as normal, but I’m ordering a thorough sweep of the Antietam. Hopefully, that’ll flush out the bastard.”
Suddenly, Zachary Garner rushed into the cabin, his forehead beaded with sweat. Saluting, he squeaked, “ Captain, sir, I’ve finished the analysis of the Vicksburg’s data recorder.”
“ And…?” Ruth prodded.
Garner shook his head. “ Nada, sir. It recorded the asteroid exploding to reveal the Kilrathi gun platform, a bright light, and then static.”
“ Damn it,” Ruth sighed. “ Well, I’d better go and relay this information to Admiral Halsey. He’s sure as hell going to want to know.”

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited October 30, 2000).]
Not bad, not bad
. Khasra sounds rather strange though - too Human. Better than your last batch of Killie characters though, so I guess you're getting better

1. Four ten-megaton nukes - Nukes? A proper news report would never use that word, except maybe in the headline.
2. **“ Goddammit,” Justin muttered under his breath, setting the fighter-bomber on autopilot and crawling back into the turret. It suddenly occurred to him how damned frightening it was to be squeezed back in that little space, watching a monstrous enemy fighter hovering directly above you. But he shook off the fear, reached forward, and took the control yoke in his hands. He dropped the reticule over the Cat and pumped neutron energy into its front shields. But the Cat bastard was stubborn. Even as his front shields began to wear down against Justin’s unrelenting neutron bombardment, the Drakhri continued to pump lasers into the Saber’s rear. ** - Merde, but I do not understand. We hear references to Sabres having people in the turrets all the time. So why does poor Justin have to be both the pilot and the gunner?

Hmm, that's an odd plot twist there, with the guy dying like that. But it should be interesting to see what happens next
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Did some editing. I've made Jeremy a year older, so it's plausible for him to join the Marines. I did not give Justin a tail gunner, though, I like the way I did it.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Yet again, I did some more editing. For some reason, I called the Lumbari a tanker, when I had no resource calling it that, and 'sides, the ships database here at the CIC lists it as a transport, so... a transport it is, unless there's evidence calling it a tanker.

Also, the news reporter now says, "... nuclear warheads..." instead of "...nukes..."

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

[This message has been edited by Dralthi5 (edited June 06, 2000).]
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I wouldn't worry too much about that designation either way. Both designations are quite correct. It's a transport, but some of these beasts also served as fuel tankers (ref: WC1, SM2), in which case they were called... well, tankers
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More editing has been done. Some system names have been changed. Italics have been placed where neccessary.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Went over this one again, too
. And I find myself wondering. How in hell could the Kilrathi get into Camelot? They would either have had to go through most of Gemini, or through Vega and quite a bit of Sol - in which case, why not go straight to Sol?

A suggestion: Change Camelot to Tingvallir. It's a system in Roan Quadrant (Sol Sector), and a strike here would very neatly highlight exactly why the Enigma Sector is so important.

Also, some of that Camelot Massacre propaganda doesn't make any sense. In one sentence, you call it a lifeless husk, and in another you say that thousands died and more will die in the weeks to come. Now, I know this is propaganda, but they wouldn't call the place a lifeless husk if there are people there - otherwise, who would want to help out in the clean-up? And we know that there must be people still there, because four ten-megaton warheads don't have a chance in hell of wiping a whole planet (especially an economic hub
) devoid of life.

Oh, one other thing. "Press conference on the Concordia"?
I know that there might be one or two war correspondents on the Concordia, but I don't think anybody would hold a proper press conference on the frontlines

BTW, don't think that I'm trying to irritate you, or anything like that. I'm actually trying to ensure that this whole story fits into the WC canon - thus helping me fill in the blanks about the WC2 period
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Keeping me on my toes, eh, Quarto? Appreciate the criticism, helps me make my story better.

Looking at the Universe map, I figured Khasra would get into Camelot by means of going through Trk'Pahn Sector, but, looking at the map again, I realize there'd be no jump routes. Tingvallir does look a more sutiable candidate for nuking.

I'll fix the news report. And about the press conference on the Concordia: perhaps Tolwyn had hove to for repairs or something, and there were a lot of reporters at the naval base or something. That's just my logic, at least.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Quarto, since you know the WC Universe a hell of a lot more than I do, I've gone ahead and taken your suggestion and changed Camelot to Tingvallir. As well, I changed the things in the news bulliten that didn't make sense.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Ok, yeah. That news bulletin looks a lot better now

Yep, I can see your point about the Concordia.

I don't know the WC Universe that well, but WC2 stuff I specialise in
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Did a tiny bit of editing (and I do mean tiny). This is because of the major editing of Ch. 6.

Also, no more italics. But they're not really important, though, are they?

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
Non, by all means the italics aren't important. In fact, I found them a bit annoying

Hmm, interesting. It looks as though that Kilrathi drug isn't quite safe for human consumption - the Ensign seems to have picked up a bit of cellular decay. I wonder if he knew that would happen before taking it.
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Hey, yeah, Kelso did pick up some cellular decay
. I may have to change that, or just say that Kelso's a moron and read his readings wrong.

If I'm locked on, there's no such thing as evasive action!
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Well, it's true that he shouldn't have too much cellular damage, but some might be in order. After all, you never know with an alien drug
. It might have a cell-killing side effect.
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What ever it was, it had to be cytotoxic. There are such drugs on the market and are used to treat cancer. It causes a part of the body to wither away, hopefully including the carcinogenic cells.

[This message has been edited by JoeyRP (edited July 17, 2000).]