Front Lines

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
O.K, considering that there are about 200 odd fan fics in this forum, it’s very possible that I’ve inadvertently ripped off someone’s idea. If that’s the case then I apologise. Let me know if this is the case and I’ll try and change the thing.

Also, I got a fair amount of information from tactics.solsector.net so I’ll be polite and thank whoever made that website.

Finally, I’m not sure if I need to include a disclaimer or not but in any case, I don’t own Wing Commander, I don’t own nearly enough of the games either.


Front Lines

By the Plywood Fiend

Chapter 1: Retreat

Salamander’s Perspective


A strategic withdrawa.l That’s what they always called them. Intentional surrender of nonessential systems, thereby causing the enemy to spread themselves too thinly, allowing for a greater chance of success in counter attacks. If it had ever worked out that way I didn’t know. All I knew was that here in the Vega sector, all we seemed to do was carry out a ‘strategic withdrawal’, then spend a month or two trying to defend whichever system we fell back to before abandoning that to the Kilrathi as well.

If they were spreading themselves too thinly, you wouldn’t know it from the force they sent to chase us out of Chang Cu. Three Bhantkara class fleet carriers with five Fralthi 2 class cruisers. The Hermes task force was no match for them on its own. Hence we’d been sent out to keep their bombers away from our ships whilst they made for the jump point. This was the kind of mission I loved more then most, the kind of mission where, assuming you weren’t incinerated in your cockpit, you could easily be left behind by your home ship and then incinerated in your cockpit, (if you were lucky).

Anyway, things hadn’t been going all that bad to begin with. Me and my two wingman, ‘Torrent’ and ‘Fool’ had already trashed a wing of Paktahn bombers heading for the Dominion, and the Arrows from ‘Swift Blade’ squadron and Hellcats from ‘Fire Wings’ had been keeping the cats off of out backs. Unfortunately, for every bomber we destroyed, three more seemed to emerge from a Kilrathi hanger.

“Guys, follow me in, same as last time, pick one and keep firing till you see floating whiskers.”
“Aye sir.” Torrent replied, it was nice to see that the nervousness I’d heard in her before the mission had faded.
“Sure thing Major.” Fool replied shortly thereafter.

A Dralthi took a few pot shots at my Thunderbolt on the way in, my front shields took a hit before I was able to swerve out of the way. I instantly brought up my rear view turret display but the Kilrathi was nowhere to be seen. I checked the radar and saw a bright red dot that looked fairly close to the stern of my fighter, being chased by a blue dot.

I didn’t have time for gratitude or relief; the first of the Paktahn was already in firing range. A series of bright green, blue and yellow flashes to my right told me that Torrent had already started firing. I followed suit a second later when I had positioned my targeting crosshair over the rotating green one on my view screen.

The pilot’s reflexes were far better then his predecessors that we’d blown apart earlier, he pulled his ship out of my line of fire before after only a few hits. I looked at my targeting display; his port shield was barely damaged. Shit.

“Worthless human filth,” chortled a Kilrathi pilot happily over my com unit, “You cannot hope to save yourselves.”

I considered replying but I abandoned the idea, I didn’t have time for this.

I pulled my ship to the right, narrowly missing a string of fire from my target’s rear turret. I tried to keep the beastie in my sights long enough to get a missile lock but I soon found my shields getting whacked once again. This time by a Vaktoth. Presumably the ship of the guy who’d just taunted me.

I wouldn’t take any bombers out with this bastard snapping at my heals, and I couldn’t sit back and hope that a passing Arrow or Hellcat would blow it away.
“Torrent, Fool, keep firing at the bombers, I’ll try and get this guy off out tails.”
“Aye sir.”
“Got it.”

The Kilrathi had flown passed my fighter and was now preparing for another run at me. I immediately punched my afterburners and swung my ship towards him.

As the cat saw me flying towards him at suitable ramming speed, his first reaction, thankfully, was to get out of my way before he found the bow of my fighter embedded in his cockpit. As he flew off to his left, I instantly pulled in behind him. His rear turret started firing at me but that didn’t defend him against the far greater stream of gunfire that I threw into his rear shields. Once these had collapsed, I fired off an Imrec missile up his engines. He had time to eject one decoy, which flew straight passed the missile and into my front shields, before the missile struck his craft, causing it to spin uncontrollably, trailing a line of fire as it did so.

The pilot said a few things over the radio in Kilrathi. I don’t know what he was saying but it was probably something offensive. After revelling in triumph for about one second, I pulled back towards the others and tried to find another Paktahn to shoot at.

I increased my speed to maximum. Sitting still for extended periods of time in a place like this redefines stupid. I found Torrent and Fool roughly five kilometres away from me. Out of the original group of four bombers, three remained, judging by the look of Fool’s target, it looked like the number would soon be reduced to two.

Space was beginning to fill up with debris; most of it was too badly charred to determine whether it was from a Kilrathi or Confed fighter.

Whilst moving my ship around what once may have been the wing of a star fighter, I almost flew my ship into an ejected Terran pilot, I had to swerve and then some to avoid them. I couldn’t help but feel a sudden stab of pity. None of our ships had been outfitted with tractor beams, there was no chance that the Hermes would send out a rescue shuttle in the middle of a battle like this, and they wouldn’t be here when it ended. That pilot, whoever he or she was, would either get whacked by a passing ship, get fried by a stray shot or be scooped up by the Kilrathi. There was nothing any of us could do about that.

I pushed the thought from my mind as best as I could as the ping of the missile lock sounded. I fired off a second Imrec into a nearby, seemingly undamaged Paktahn’s shields. The pilot instantly pulled up, losing its torpedo lock on the Toronto.

The missile swerved into a decoy that the Kilrathi bomber had deployed and detonated a few moments later. I let it go. I had to focus on the fighters that were still heading for our capital ships.

I found a target, and fired. The Paktahn didn’t try and flee right away, the pilot presumably was mere seconds away from a missile lock. I grinned, I was firing at an idiot. A rookie without a doubt. The sort who hasn’t figured out from a dying wingman’s last snarling hiss that they aren’t immune to death.

His shields failed after a moment, soon afterwards, my tactical display revealed moderate damage to his engines after a few gunshots impacted on his hull.

He started to move then, not that it did him much good. His engines had taken a fair few hits and he couldn’t move much faster then a porcupine mine. I swung around behind him and fired again. He ejected about five seconds earlier then he probably could have got away with. I wasn’t so careful to avoid his ejection seat as I was with the other pilot. There was a slight flash of blue as the Cat was fried on my shields, then nothing. Oh well, accidents happen.

“The Rome is taking hits guys,” Said Lieutenant Jake Coben, the Hermes’ com officer, ”Cover her.”
Above me, I could just make out shapes that appeared to be Longbow bombers. It was nice to see they’d finally got some of those in the air, maybe now we could even up the odds a bit. Unfortunately, their presence meant that a lot of the fighters guarding our rears were about to be diverted to cover the bombers.
I heard a scream then, a human scream which came from a face that had appeared on my, and most probably everyone else’s com screen. The pilot was waving his arms frantically, trying to fend off the flames that were reaching up from his consoles to lash at him.

There was the briefest sound of an explosion, and then the screen went dead.
The pilot had probably opened a channel to all ships to request assistance. It was easier to ask everyone then see who was closest, especially if your wingman had been fried. I don’t know if this was the case. Anyway, instead, our entire compliment of airborne pilots was treated to the sight of his fiery death and the sound of his shriek of an epitaph. Not to sound unfeeling, I mean I did feel bad for the guy, I still do, and I’m not blaming him for what happened, but in the heat of combat we don’t need stuff like that.

“All fighters,” Coben again, “We are approaching the jump point, you have five minutes to get yourselves back here before we jump out. Don’t dawdle people, if we have to leave you behind, we will.
I remember thinking that it was kind of pointless sending the bombers out seeing as they didn’t have time to shoot at anything, That was before I heard the cry of,
“I die for my…”

This transmission was cut off abruptly as space lit up by the exploding fusion reactor of one of the Bhantkara carriers. After another moment of silence, a number of Kilrathi pilots started hissing and growling their outrage at us over the radio. They also seemed to be shooting at us with renewed zeal.

My rear shields took hits from two Darkets that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. My onboard computer instantly took control of the rear turret and let off a few rounds into the closest fighter, which then proceeded to fire a heat seeker at me.

My ‘Lock’ light sprang to life with the fast, nervous beeping that usually added to the nervousness of the guy trying to evade the missile. I dropped off a decoy and hit my afterburners, swinging my ship around so that it was pointed at the Hermes. It made no difference.

The missile crashed into the rear of my Thunderbolt, ripping my rear shields away with contemptuous ease. There was a sharp jolt and I was flung forward towards my view screen. My ship had veered off course slightly, I tried to correct that after I’d pried myself off the window, but the two Darkets quickly appeared from the shadows once again and started firing at my now singed fighter. Flying in a straight line no longer seemed like a good idea.
“Hurry up people, you have three minutes left.”

My rear turret was gone, no help there, I hit the afterburners and hoped that the damage I’d taken from the missile hit hadn’t wouldn’t slow me down too much.
“Jak-ta-gah! Yes, run! Worthless ape dung. You will die before you…”

The Kilrathi pilot’s taunt was cut off as his fighter blew up. Its always a good idea to keep an eye on your radar when firing at a target, its easy to get distracted when you’re a hit or two away from a kill and not notice the beastie sneaking up behind you.

“Thanks Razor.” I uttered, trying to hide my relief behind forced nonchalance.
“Don’t mention it. I knew you’d need me to help you sooner or later.” She cut the channel before I could respond with a witty comment of my own. Truth be told I didn’t really have one, but that’s not important.

O.K, by the looks of things i'm going to have to post this chapter in two posts.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
The second Darket had veered off, presumably to try and avenge his wingman. I was tempted to try and even the score by shooting the beast off of her tail, but decided against it when I noticed the flak fire coming from the Hermes and her support ships. She didn’t need my help. Truth be told she probably didn’t need it anyway.

Pilots were flying into the Hermes’ docking bay in groups of twos and threes. I guessed that no one was making landing requests considering the circumstances; they were just waiting to be told to get in and getting in, quickly.

I spent about twenty seconds hovering near the Hermes; it felt more like twenty minutes. I kept expecting to see the ship disappear into the jump point, leaving the rest of us alone with the cats.

I spent this time launching my remaining missiles at whatever targets hadn’t already been taken out by Flak fire or had already gotten out of firing range. I was able to take out one limping Dralthi and cause one Vaktoth pilot to eject before Coben’s face finally appeared on my com screen.
“Major McLean, get your wing onboard now!”
“Alright guys, you heard the man, land and land quickly.”
“Yes sir.” They said in succession.

I hurled my ship around the bridge and hastily lined myself up with the docking bay. It felt a bit like an anxiety dream, the kind where you’re running towards something vitally important and your legs feel like two cinder blocks.

I moved forward far more quickly then landing procedures recommend, as a result I was almost sticking out the other end of the Hermes when my ship stopped moving. I guess that was a good thing, it gave the others more room to move.

The crew on deck virtually ripped me out of the Thunderbolt. I kept hearing cries of ‘Come on, move your ass son’, and ‘Hurry it up fuckwit, we don’t have long.’

I moved as quickly as I could. I was almost tempted to leap to the deck, but hauling away an idiot with two broken legs wasn’t going to help anyone get in any quicker.

I was directed towards one of the exits, where I noticed pilots hurriedly getting out of the way of landing fighters, that seemed like sense to me.

I felt a welcome relief when I saw two Thunderbolts, in other words Fool and Torrent, emerging through the force field of the Hermes. This was soon replaced by concern for Razor’s wellbeing, along with Scar’s and Adish’s.
Get out you fool! My head started screaming at me, or it might have been a technician, Get out know!

I dashed for the far wall to make sure I wouldn’t get caught under someone’s landing gear on my way out, then I rushed for the exit.

About halfway there, there was a sharp jolt that sent everyone on the flight deck, hell probably everyone on the ship flying to the floor. I found myself sliding towards the door before I was able to stop myself. This jolt was accompanied by an almighty bang that nearly blew my eardrums out. It took me a minute to realise what had happened.

The Hermes had taken a torpedo hit.

It didn’t take too many torpedo hits to down even the strongest of warships, just that one would undoubtedly have caused critical damage to the Hermes. My head shot up again as a new noise emerged suddenly out of nowhere. As I noticed three Arrows touching down on the deck plating under the now flickering lights, I noticed a trail of debris being left in the Hermes’ wake.

If they’d taken out the jump engine…

I pushed the image aside and made my way to the door once again. Half expecting to be flung through by another torpedo hit.

Eventually, I made it through and hastily made my way down the corridor to the stairs leading to Flight control. A good place to be at this time, out of the way and with a view of the flight deck.
“Attention,” Said an echoing, somewhat fuzzy voice from the ship’s intercom, “Jump point in 30 seconds, repeat, jump point in 30 seconds.”

There’d be people left behind, no doubt about it. They would be pulling as many ships as they could onboard now, except for the bombers, they had jump engines of their own, hell they’d probably gone through already.
“Jump point in 20 seconds, repeat, jump point in twenty seconds.”
“Come on Razor,” I whispered, “Scar, Adish. Get onboard.”

I had no idea if they were onboard or not, that’s why I was heading for flight control, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of their faces from the window overlooking the flight deck.

“Jump point in ten seconds.”
No time left, I crouched slightly and grabbed onto the banister. Jump points could be bumpy things, especially if your ship was damaged.
“Five, four, three, two, one”
“I’m sorry.”
“Initiating Jump sequence, now.”

The ship shuddered, there was a bright light from the doorway up the stairs, light from the wormhole coming through the flight deck and the windows in Flight Control overlooking it. I was still wearing my flight helmet, there was a light filter in the visor that protected my eyes against such lights, everyone working on the flight deck was required to wear one in times like these, we couldn’t afford to lose people to blindness in times of war.

Eventually, the shuddering shopped. The light faded and there was a deathly calm for a few moments. The calm after the storm. The fire fight that we’d escaped from less then a minute ago felt like it had happened a week ago.

Now we were in the Brimstone system. I’d fought here once, as a 2nd lieutenant, less then a month out of the academy, flying off of the TCS Redoubtable and helping to wrest the system from the claws of the enemy. I can still remember the pride and hope I felt as I watched the News footage of our demolitions team taking down the base on Brimstone 2. I can never forgive myself for feeling hope.

Oh, in case you were wondering, I was apologising to the pilot I’d flown passed, and anyone else who had been left behind in Chang-Cu. I know there was nothing I could do to save those that had bailed out, nor could I have gotten one more person onboard. Still, I couldn’t help but feel guilty.

I’ve had to apologise too often.

I released the banister from my grasp and made my way back down to the flight deck. There was no sign of Fool or Torrent, they must have been in Flight Control or somewhere.

As I stepped onto the flight deck, I saw a lot of frustrated faces, everyone feeling bitter over our failure in Chang Cu, everyone feeling irrationally responsible for all the people who died or were left behind. I also saw a few people, like myself, searching for familiar faces, praying silently to God to let there friends be alright.

I noticed Scar first, or should I say he noticed me. As I was wandering aimlessly, trying to stay out of everyone’s way and make my way to the large cluster of pilots who seemed to be gathered next to a Thunderbolt, I felt a grip on my shoulder. I turned around and there he was, just staring at me, looking as deadpan as he always seemed to.
“Greetings tovarish, “ He said, his thick Russian accent barely penetrating the ringing in my ears. “I’m glad to see you made it.”
“Likewise,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder as I did so, “Have you seen Razor? Or Adish?” He shook his head slowly. I sighed and nodded, more to myself then him.
“Let’s head for that lot, maybe they’re in there somewhere.”
“Very well sir.”

We walked toward the line, hastily trying to get close enough to distinguish faces. In my line of vision, I soon found myself looking at the faces of a lot of relieved looking pilots, chatting with friends who’s lives they had been afraid for, other people were still searching, their eyes becoming ever more worried. One young looking guy was crying.

Scar grabbed my shoulder again, I turned round and saw him pointing at two figures a few meters away from us, talking to each other next to an Arrow.

Relief flooded through me, it was Razor and Adish. For a moment, I just stood there, enjoying the feeling. Then I noticed Adish pointing in our direction, the four of us began moving towards each other.
“Thank God,” Razor said, when we finally got close enough to hear each other. She still looked worried, “Where’s Fool and Torrent?”
“They’re fine,” I said, “They came in around the same time as me, I think they went through into Flight control, they’re probably looking for us from one of the windows.”

Adish sighed heavily, the relief was now flooding through him. I enjoyed the feeling while it lasted. After a few moments the bitterness and guilt fought their way back to the surface.
“Let’s get out of here.” Adish said, “We’re just getting in the way, and I don’t know about the rest of you but I could use a drink.”
“I think we all could,” Scar added.

We moved towards the exit. The Hermes and her escort ships now were now running at best possible speed to the Confederation position at Brimstone two. We needed to get away from the jump point quickly, in case the Kilrathi decided to follow us through. We doubted that they would, it made more sense to fall back, gather a suitably strong fleet and just waltz in and pound us later.

After we met up with Fool and Torrent, we headed to the rec-room and like many other pilots, we drank. We drank until our defeat was a distant memory, hidden behind the vale of a drunken stupor.

To be continued.
 

McGruff

Banned
Very few of these fan fics hold my interest past the first paragraph, but this is one of the exceptions, please continue.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
Thanks to McGruff for his comments and anyone else who read the first chapter.

Chapter 2: Aftermath

Razor’s Perspective


“TCN now has independent confirmation that Confederation forced retreated from the Chang Cu system, in the Vega sector at approximately 0600 hours yesterday. This is the fourth system in Vega to be retaken by the Kilrathi in the last six months. The grim reality seems to be, that Vega sector, site of many major Confederation victories, is now being stolen away by the Kilrathi, a piece at a time. This is Barbara Miles, signing off for TNC.”

I stared at the screen and briefly felt a familiar anger. Barbara Miles and every other TCN reporter or ‘independent source’ always seemed to delight in tales of Confederation defeats. This was always hidden behind an air of nonchalance but you could almost feel the sickening satisfaction as she dealt a blow to the moral of the arch enemy of the media.

The Confederation military always tried to clamp down on things that could cause public unrest and hysteria. Things were tense enough at the best of times in the homelands, the last thing we needed was panic, rioting and chaos. Yet these TCN bastards insisted on trying to create panic, rioting and chaos. Why? Because of ratings.

When you spend your life fighting for the survival of your species, you develop a contempt for the trivial things you might have worried about before. From where I was sitting, ratings, popularity and career advancement seemed more trivial then a missing thread from a flight suit. Why these people couldn’t see past their own virtually meaningless jobs and think about what was best for the species was beyond me.

I pushed the image from my head and turned my attention back towards my drink. Part of me wanted to wander over to the kill board, but the rest of me knew that doing so would only show far too many names with the words ‘deceased’ or ‘MIA’ written next to them. I didn’t want to see that, none of us wanted to.

We’d left twenty three people behind in Chang Cu for the Cats to do with as they pleased. Another twelve pilots had been blown to pieces by enemy fire. The fact that almost three times as many Kilrathi star fighters, and one cruiser had gone to the great litter box in the sky was little consolation.

We’d been told to expect replacement personnel some time this week. That wasn’t just fighter pilots either, that torpedo hit on the Hermes had taken 53 crewmembers with it, the lucky ones were killed instantly, the less lucky were sucked through the resulting hull breach and left to die slowly in the vacuum of space.

I tried, once again, to banish these thoughts from my head. My head seemed determined to torment me with images of exploding bodies and pilots, people I knew being sliced to pieces by Kilrathi claws.
Death is a part of war. Wherever you serve out there, death will haunt you and in all likelihood claim you. If you cannot accept that then you will go insane.

Those were the words of Jake Timmons. A man who couldn’t live with death all around him when he was a second lieutenant onboard the TCS Maine and promptly went insane. This wasn’t the kind of screaming, demented insanity that you see so often in Holo-movies. Maybe insane isn’t even the right word. The guy was haunted by nightmares and would either faint or break down on the deck whenever he approached a fighter. In the end they carted him home.

Unwilling to be put out to pasture so early, he became a guest speaker at the academy, (after some psychiatric treatment of course), where he warned young recruits about what to expect on the front so that they were less likely to lose their heads after the first brush with interstellar mortality.

Anyway. My train of thought was, thankfully, brought to an abrupt halt by the appearance of Salamander. He was wearing the same glum facial expression that he’d been wearing for the last five odd months. For him the downswing in the war effort was always lurking above him, waiting to cast a shadow over the slightest sliver of happiness. That was my theory anyway.

I kicked a seat out from under the table as he approached. He gave a weary half smile and sat down. His face looked like he’d spent the last two nights living in the cockpit of an Arrow. He was also making a conscious effort not to move his head.

By the looks of him, he hadn’t recovered from his hangover yet. Most pilots I noticed had chosen to live with the searing pain in their head rather then drink the God forsaken anti-hangover goop, which despite curing hangovers, tasted like shit mixed with reactor fuel. Drinking it was almost as bad as the hangover itself and was known to cause some pilots to spend two or three hours vomiting.

Having said that, three guesses what I’d done when I woke up with a hangover.

Anyway, the conversation started with the typical questions and answers that people say again and again so that it seems as if they have something to say. Each of us was careful to avoid unpleasant subjects such as retreating and missing persons.

“So when are you next heading out?” He asked a few minutes in, after downing his second glass of water and signalling to the bartender for a third.
“14 hundred.” I replied, “Most of the Fire Wings are getting stuck with patrol duty. Flying around the system looking for Kilrathi who are still two or three days away at least. Oh be still my beating heart.”
“Sounds like a suitable task for Fire Wing Pilots, let’s just hope that none of you mistake an asteroid for the Hermes and meet a fiery end while trying to land.

I couldn’t let that pass. My right leg shot out and Salamander grunted in pain as it collided with his knee.

Such was the way onboard the Hermes, not long after the ship launched, friendly competition between ‘Fire Wings’ squadron, (the ships compliment of Hellcat pilots), and ‘Death’s Shadow’ squadron, (the ship’s Thunderbolt flyers) broke out. Each squadron was constantly trying to outperform the other, in kills, medals, mission ribbons, witty comments and so on.

“What about you?” I asked after a few seconds, “Do you know when you’re next heading out?”

Again i'll have to post in two posts.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
“No idea. I haven’t heard anything. So all there is for me to do is sit here and wait.” He made a noise that was a cross between a sigh and a laugh, “There are times when I actually prefer getting shot at then sitting in this fucking tub. I mean at least…”

He cut himself off, his last word quickly changed to a hiss of air pushed through clenched teeth. I knew how he felt. We were all feeling it, and we had all felt it before. Out there in the cockpit, shame, guilt, despair and all that shit, for the most part, took a back seat. It was replaced by nervousness brought about by the potential for a fire fight, or the heat of battle itself.

There have been some notable exceptions. During the Hermes carrier group’s stay in the Gimlie system, two Arrows from ‘Swift Blade’ squadron had rammed themselves straight into two Paktahns. It was defiantly suicide, the flight recorder data showed that beyond any doubt.

I often wondered if the Kilrathi ever felt despair. I doubted it.

There was a moment of silence in which Salamander seemed to be resisting the urge to hurl his glass across the room. In the end, he let out a long sigh and pushed himself to his feet.
“I have to take a shower; I’ll see you when I see you.”
“O.K, see you.”

He opened his mouth to say something more, then he closed it again. With his head hanging down he made his way to the lift.

THREE HOURS LATER

It was quiet in the briefing room as we waited for Colonel Cade Trent to arrive. Normally in the minutes leading up to a mission briefing, you could hear the chatter of pilots talking about kills and assorted war stories. Today, a deathly silence hung over the room. There was nothing to say.

Empty seats were littered around the room. The Fire Wings had lost four pilots. Lieutenant Zachary ‘Gladiator’ Hill, Captain Elena ‘Spike’ Williams, Lieutenant Howard ‘Lechery’ Fulsome, and Lieutenant Anisa ‘Fury’ Monteagle. I didn’t really know any of them. They were just names, voices and faces that I had grown used to seeing or hearing.

I pushed the thoughts aside as best as I could as I noticed Colonel Trent emerge through a far door and walk up to his podium.
“Alright people, listen up. I know you’re all feeling bad about Chang Cu and everyone we lost there, but we can’t dwell on that now. The cats will be coming for us, soon, and when they get here we can’t afford to be crying into our beers.”

He paused and pressed a number of buttons on the terminal in front of him. The map screen then flickered to life and displayed a seemingly empty green grid.

“Over the next few days we’ll be sending out numerous patrols to several jump points which the Kilrathi might arrive through, as well as several potential staging areas that they might use.”

Specific wings and patrol routes were then assigned. Mine came somewhere near the end.

“Razor, you’ll lead Rho wing. Mace will be your wingman. Computer, display Rho.” Trent paused again as he waited for the computer to display our patrol route. Three Nav points, no asteroids or mine fields to contend with, seemed pretty simple.
“I’d like you to fly to these three Nav points. When you get to Nav 3, you are to await the arrival of the transport ‘Susan Danvers’. She’s the first of the relief ships that’ll be heading our ay in the next few days. Make sure she gets here in one piece. Any questions?”
“No sir.” I replied,
“None sir.” Mace replied a few seconds later.
“Very well then, next up is…”

I stopped listening after that. I always loathed escort missions, especially ones involving transports. Crawling across space at a speed that makes a tranquilised snail seem fast by comparison, and being in the company of something that is more or less a large, floating bull’s-eye is not exactly fun.

I searched my head, looking for a time when I had actually considered a mission fun. There had only been one, and that had been short lived. As a nauseatingly overconfident 2nd Lieutenant onboard the TCS Titan, I had been part of a four ship raid on an enemy Lumbari convoy moving through the Nifelheim system. Things were going well at first, I had just earned my ‘Ace’ ribbon for my fifth confirmed kill, three of the five Sarthas had been obliterated, the first transport was seconds away from exploding, and then, as I pulled to the left to get another Sartha in my sights, I saw my intended target slam into my wingman’s Rapier.

I froze instantly, shock and disbelief coursing into my veins. That was my first brush with death. Moronic though this would sound, I always felt somewhat immune to it. I carried the deluded impression that if I did my job right, I wouldn’t have to worry about an untimely demise. Bad luck, superior enemy numbers, a kamikaze cat and dozens of other unnerving possibilities never entered my head.

It was in that instant, for me, that the Kilrathi stopped being fuzzy, loud mouthed pests, and started becoming the fearful, dangerous enemy that everyone with an ounce of sense saw them as, it was also then that I let go of my deluded ideas about how life and death in interstellar combat worked. It was only a few hits on my rear shield and a few angry shouts of ‘Wake up’ over the radio that snapped me out of my trance.

We completed the mission, the enemy was obliterated, and the destruction of the Lumbari troop transports was of great help to our marines on Nifelheim and allowed us to retake the system. But I could never again think of my job as fun.

I was brought back to the present when I heard Trent ask,
“Any questions?”
“Yes sir,” Said another pilot, I didn’t know her. “How long do you expect it will be before the Kilrathi arrive in system?”
“We don’t know Lieutenant, it could be a matter of days, it could be this evening, so let’s not waste any time. “Any other questions?” Silence was his answer, “Alright, squadron dismissed.”

We stood up and moved towards the equipment lockers where our flight suits and helmets waited. Some people muttered words of encouragement to others, most remained silent. I even saw a grin on one face. What he was grinning at I’m still not sure.

TWO HOURS LATER

“Rho wing, this is Alpha wing out of the TCS Coral Sea, we are handing the transport over to you.”
“Acknowledged Alpha wing,” I responded, “Anything interesting happen on your flight?”
“Nah” The pilot’s voice was genuinely disappointed, “Too damn quiet in this system.”
“I don’t expect it will stay that way for long.”
“That’s good. I have a score to settle with these hairy bastards.”

I was about to say ‘You and everyone else’, but I decided against it. As much as staying here and talking to this guy seemed far more appealing then following this space born slug back to the Hermes, we didn’t have time to waste.
“We’d better get going. Thanks Alpha wing, good hunting.”
“To you as well.”

With that the two Hellcats turned and headed back the way they came.
“Transport ‘Susan Danvers’ this is Major Samantha Baez, we’ll escort you to the Hermes.
“Copy that, we are starting our approach.”

After Mace and me had entered formation with the transport, I flicked my autopilot switch and sat back in my chair, keeping one eye on the radar.

The first two Nav points had been clear of Kilrathi. As we approached the second one, the jump hole we’d used to retreat from Chang Cu, I’d half expected to see a H’varkan or two come through. I’d been more then a little relieved when we were safely away from it.

As quiet as it was there, and as foolish as I had felt after we were away from it. It wouldn’t be long before the Kilrathi came through it. Then how long would it be before were pulling out of this system as well? At the rate things were going, the Confederation forces, what was left of them were getting pushed further and further into a corner. How long would it be before the Hermes, assuming it survived, was flying through a jump hole to Earth, hovering in orbit, making one last desperate stand with the other surviving Confed ships against an unbeatable Kilrathi force that would take out the Earth and finish this war?

I rebuked myself for the thought, thinking like that wouldn’t help anyone.

To be continued.
 

Marc

Commodore
Well... I'm hooked.
As I was rounding off the second chapter, I kept hoping the third Chapter would suddenly get posted :)

To put it simply, you've made yourself another fan... me!
 

Kilrah

Spaceman
This is the first time I read a FanFic and honestly I’m enjoying it very much. Good job Plywood Fiend.
Please keep it going.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
O.K, I know I’m way behind schedule here and for that I apologise. I shall pin the blame on coursework and essays for college, as well as a short lived lack of inspiration but that’s now passed.

Thanks to all who’ve read and commented on this. I’ll try and update sooner next time.

Chapter 3: Faith


Torrent’s perspective

Greetings my friend,

I am pleased to hear that you survived with the majority of your battle group and live still to fight our enemy. I also regret to hear of your failure in Chang Cu. I am certain that you all fought valiantly to keep the system, but alas it was not enough.
I hope that fate favours you in Brimstone. I feel I must warn you however, that system has been a symbol of humiliation for the Empire since it was lost to the Confederation earlier in the war. Many eights of warriors committed Zu’kara as a punishment inflicted upon themselves for their failure. Many more eights of Kilrathi swore to slay every terran audacious enough to be within an imperial system of such strategic importance. Be careful Ryuku, the Empire will stop at nothing to get this system back, the enemies you will face with be filled with furious anger and a burning hatred stronger then what you typically see.
Nevertheless, I have confidence in you and your comrades onboard the Hermes. You will prevail.
I am pleased to report that here in the Morpheus system things have gone well. Despite moderate losses of men and equipment, we have been able to wrest the system from the Empire and capture one of their supply depots intact. We were also able to terminate several enemy warships, and cause several more to flee from this system. This was truly a glorious battle.
I do not know where I will be assigned next. I can only hope it is to a system that will be more of a challenge. As you continually request I will try to ‘keep myself in one piece’.
Whatever awaits you, fly always with bravery and skill.

- Z’ratmak nar Ghorah Khar


I always like getting letters from Z’ratmak; he takes such joy in even the most meaningless of victories. I once saw him bare all his teeth, (the Kilrathi grin of triumph apparently), at his food after he’d finally mastered the art of using a knife and fork. Although after he had accomplished this he decided that eating with his paws was easier.
Z’ratmak nar Ghorah Khar is one of a very small number of Kilrathi serving within the confederation military. He was, and still is to the best of my knowledge, the commander of a terran confederation marine unit; the ‘Spine snappers’.
Until about a year before we arrived in Chang-Cu, he’d been serving onboard the Hermes. A lot of the crew didn’t take too kindly to having a Kilrathi onboard. In some ways I can’t really blame them, I felt the same way at first, it wasn’t until I took a chance and got to know Z’ratmak that I’d been able to see passed my prejudices and eventually accept him as a friend.
Actually, that’s a lie.
It wasn’t until I saw a technician, who had made one too many offensive comments to Z’ratmak, be hurled clear across the Rec-room by him that I began to question my prejudices. After all, that technician had always been an insufferable loudmouthed fool. What I saw in our new Kilrathi marine after this incident was not a savage beast in a Confed uniform, but a man who was an impeccable judge of character.
Well, that’s also something of an exaggeration, and there was more to our becoming friends then that. That is, more or less how it started however.
So we’d taken Morpheus? Well that was good news; it was nice to know that we were on the offensive in some corners of the universe.
Of course as with every piece of good news, there was always a rumour to spoil it. In this case it was that Confed was striking strategically worthless systems so as to give the impression of ‘winning the war’ to the civilian population, or in the hopes of diverting Kilrathi attention from the more strategically important systems that they were attacking. If either was the case then it wasn’t working. The Kilrathi were still hitting us where it hurt with full force, and the public was as often as not always listening to reports of a Kilrathi raid on a populated planet taking the lives of thousands of innocent civilians. This, as you can imagine, does not do much for morale back home.
I closed the message, shut down the laptop and returned it to its normal position on the floor underneath my bunk.
For a few moments I just sat motionless, letting each increasingly monotonous second pass. There was nothing else to do, the simulator was in use, there wasn’t much happening in the Rec room, I wasn’t especially tired and until further notice I was off duty, so there was nothing for me to do but sit here and listen to another person’s rhythmic snoring.
I pushed myself to my feet and started walking towards the door. Early evening was beginning to set in, maybe I could get dinner before the crowds assembled.
 

Plywood Fiend

Rear Admiral
TWENTY MINUTES LATER

“I’m serious,” Adish said loudly, causing a few heads to turn our way, “I pointed out to him that his and Razor’s feelings for each other were as blindingly obvious as the fact that Kilrathi have fur, and his face went redder then a radish. He then made some bullshit excuse to leave and virtually ran to the lift.”
I laughed at the image, as did Fool. Salamander and Razor had spent the better part of a year vehemently denying and hiding from their feelings for each other. Partly because they didn’t want to get hurt if and when one of them met an untimely end, (which is understandable enough), and partly because they were both to proud to reduce themselves, (as they would have seen it), to the soppy, nauseating couples that occasionally appeared onboard ship, always holding hands and giggling inanely.
To the detached third party however, their reasons for denying what they felt made no sense. In all probability, we would all be slain during the course of our career. Since the war started, the percentage of pilots that made it to retiring age had hovered steadily around 17%, and most of those consisted of people stationed in such backwater systems that the biggest threat to pilots was boredom, They at least had the chance to experience some happiness in their lives; or as Fool once put it, They at least had the chance to get laid a few times before they got whacked.
Silence hung between the three of us for a few moments as we ingested a few more spoonfuls of the imitation beef stew that we had been served. What it was made of no one knew, nor did they want to know for that matter. In terms of our daily nutrients, most of which are formed from things not too dissimilar to reactor fluid, ignorance really is bliss.
Nevertheless it still tasted nice.
“Speaking of,” said Fool suddenly, “When is Razor due back?”
“Another three hours I think,” Adish said after hastily swallowing another mouthful, “You know what it’s like with transports, it’ll be a miracle if she gets back before the cats get here.”
“She will,” Fool added with an air of detached callousness that his face didn’t mirror too well, “The cats shouldn’t be showing themselves for a few days yet, that fleet carrier of theirs blowing up will slow them down for sure.”
“You’re welcome.” Adish said with a slight bow. I couldn’t help but grin, a dead fleet carrier was a major morale boost for Adjudicator squadron, (our Longbow pilots), no matter the circumstances.
As my mind replayed the last twenty seconds, I realised that people had already began to force themselves to forget about the dead and missing in action, even before the funeral. It took me a few more seconds to realise that I’d been doing the same thing. It was becoming second nature. If you didn’t push death, fear and despair away, they would consume you. What use would you be to the confederation then?
“Did you get the kill shot?” I asked, hoping to break the new silence and my own train of thought.
“God knows, tactical didn’t get a good look and a lot of our flight recorders took hits on the way out, that means one out of a possible seventeen pilots, myself included, did the deed.”
“That’s a tachyon up the ass.” Fool added.
“Isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I mean how often does…”
“Attention,” Boomed an unknown voice over the ships intercom, “All available Swift Blade and Death’s Shadow pilots are to report to the briefing room immediately, repeat, all available Swift Blade and Death’s Shadow pilots are to report to the briefing room immediately. That is all.”
“Damn,” Fool muttered, clasping his bowl in both hands, “For once I thought I’d get to eat without having that thing go off.” With that he raised the bowl to his lips and swallowed the contents with a series of graceless slurps.
I considered doing the same but I wasn’t really that hungry. Instead I simply stood up and left it.
“See you when we see you.” I said to Adish, then me and Fool made our way to the lift.

In the briefing room I found myself sitting behind an annoyingly tall man who blocked my view of the map screen. There was a lot of background chatter. It was not often that squadrons were called to the briefing room in pairs, normally they were briefed individually. When this wasn’t the case it often meant that there wasn’t time, and that always meant that Kilrathi were close by.
As the last of the pilots filed in through the door, Salamander sat himself down in the seat to the right of Fool and me. He gave a weary half smile by way of greeting.
He looked worried, and still slightly hung over. Not surprising really, whenever one of us was out he felt nervous, when it was Razor who was out flying, he usually looked like he was resisting the urge to climb into his thunderbolt and fly out after her.
“Alright people,” Colonel Trent was almost shouting, “Quiet down, we have to move quickly.”
Silence fell over the room and all eye turned expectantly towards Trent,
“One of our tracking stations has reported that Kilrathi have already come through the jump point,”
A shocked, weary murmur emerged from the silence. Although we knew there could be no other explanation for our being summoned here, it still seemed impossible, the Kilrathi could never have come through this quickly, they needed to re-supply, repair their damaged ships and replace the Fleet carrier that we blew up.
“So far,” Trent’s voice cut through our whispers like a knife, “we have been able to identify three Kamrani class corvettes, each of which appears to have at least four Vaktoth escort fighters. I doubt that I have to explain to any of you what this small force would be tasked with.”
He didn’t, these ships were too small to be anything but scouts. They had most likely been sent through the jump point from Chang Cu to scan the area, collect as much information as they could on our fleet strength, bases etc. and transmit this information back through the jump point.
The Kilrathi knew that we would detect them the second they arrived in system, and they also knew that we could easily deal with such a force, even if the Hermes battle group was the only one in system, (which is wasn’t).
These ships were not meant to survive, they had been sent here to die. The crew and pilots no doubt had been promised eternal honour in whichever heaven, (if any) the Kilrathi believed in.
This also served as a message to us. It told us that the Kilrathi could afford to lose a few ships, and that their loss wouldn’t cause any damage whatsoever to the ships waiting on the other side of the jump hole. It also served as a reminder that it wouldn’t be long before their main fleet arrived.
Colonel Trent’s words soon regained my attention.
“We believe that if we strike quickly enough we can take out these hairy bastards before they discover anything overly important. We’ll be sending out three strike groups, consisting of two ships from Death’s shadow squadron and four from Swift Blade squadron. (Arrow pilots).
At this point he began to read out names, all of us listened closely for ours, some silently praying that there’s wouldn’t be called out. Mine came up with the second wing.
“Beta wing will consist of Salamander, Torrent, Veneration, Dauntless, False Prince and Scar. Computer, display Beta.”
The map screen quickly zoomed in on a seemingly nondescript nav point.
“Their current course and speed indicates that they’ll be here at the same time you are if all goes well. Same as Alpha wing’s assignment. This is a simple lightening strike mission, Thunderbolts take out the corvette, Arrows take care of the escorts. Any questions?”
Silence was his answer.
“Alright then, Gamma wing shall consist of…”

TWO HOURS LATER

I always preferred travelling in groups, due simply to the old saying ‘Safety in numbers’. Travelling in twos never seemed overly wise, especially considering the fact that the Kilrathi had a habit of having four or more fighters in a single wing.
No one was saying anything, Salamander had ordered radio silence. If the beasties intercepted com traffic then our job could quickly become harder.
On the nav map I noticed that we were getting close, it wouldn’t be long before the corvette would be appearing on our radars.
I hated enemy corvettes, they were a step and a half above their predecessors that older pilots used to delight in blasting to pieces. The beasts we faced now, along with their infamous rear turrets, had taken the lives of more then one careless pilot.
Your best hope was to try and take out that turret with a well aimed missile, if it went down you could hide behind the ship and blast it to pieces, I’d taken out two myself using that tactic.
A simpler option was just to hurl a torpedo at it, which was what we planned to do.
“Wait a minute,” Said one of the arrow pilots, False Prince I think, (don’t ask me how he got that call sign), “I’m getting something. After a few seconds pause he spoke up again ‘It’s the Corvette sir.”
“Alright,” Salamander said over the com, “Arrows, you know what to do, don’t pay chicken with the Vaktoths, fly around them and keep hammering away at them. If they get you in their sights they’ll rip you to pieces before you can say ‘eeek’. Just fly right and you’ll earn four kills for your squadron.
“Yes sir,” came the reply.
“Torrent, lets move in, we’ll both launch a torpedo, just to be sure.”
“Yes sir.”
“Alright people, lets get ‘em.”

To be continued.
 
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