Episode 1: Pride
“Welcome new recruits! This will be your first briefing before being assigned to your posts as soldiers of this fine military group.”, screamed out a man in a highly decorated uniform. As I sat, a multitude of soldiers continued pouring into the room. “There must be hundreds”, I thought.
“I am Major Vance Caplan and we are the Starlance Security Force assigned to protect most of the industrial and commercial interests in this star system. You, our newest recruits, will help us provide protection from the rampant piracy and the ruthless mercenaries that continue to try to ruin our economy.” The room was full, all the recruits were seated and listening attentively to the monologue. I for one found it wasteful, we should have had a simpler briefing. I knew another would be given after our initial assignment, so this felt redundant. The great Starlance military force is the one place just about everyone in the system wants to be in. Great salaries, plenty of action and a strange feeling of pride overwhelmed most new recruits. Unlike them though I felt an urge to run away. The crowd made me anxious, I might have recognized a few faces, though many were now lost in the sea of uniforms. I had few friends here, those I knew were from the main training academy named Centauri Starlance One, or CSO for short.
“Soldiers!”, I jumped in my seat, breaking away from thoughts and reminiscing. “This here is your standard pulse pistol. It has an automatic charge feature and lets you fire one round about every second. Most unarmored soldiers will be stunned and possibly burned at the point of impact. It is mostly a defensive weapon but you must carry yours at all times! Any soldier found without his will receive the proper punishment.”, he activated the weapon in his hand and fired a shot at one of the well armored soldiers standing guard in the room. “That tickled, sir”, said the soldier who easily shrugged off the hit from the energy pistol. “You see here”, continued the Major whilst I started to feel a yawn trying to wrest my control over the boredom I felt, “this type of pistol is fine for most of those who will be stationed here at the carrier. The rifle this young man has is for the more experienced, but also for the field soldiers. Suffice to say, not all of you are cut out to be field soldiers, those of you who survive will be more than welcome into our ranks. Prepare to leave for your new posts, dismissed!”.
No one said a word, no one had to. I reached the area where I was supposed to report in. The officer in charge quickly gathered the group for our own briefing session.
“Alright, I see everyone is adhering to the rules. Pulse pistols in place, now, for your tool sets.”, she pointed to some boxes beside one of the doors. “All of you will continue to report to me, to the officer in command of the second shift or the officer in command of the third shift. We have no true night and day cycle as you are well aware, instead you will be assigned a shift and must provide maintenance to the fighters in this hangar bay. Address me and your commanders here by rank, I will be supervising this shift as Hangar Chief.”
The loud clanging of the outer doors interrupted the briefing, a small group of star fighters arrived from patrol. A voice that seemed mildly familiar announced the arrival of the fighters. “Squadron Sigma you are cleared for hangar bay sixteen”. I stopped to think about the voice, but had to focus again on the briefing.
“It seems we have our first group up for maintenance. All of you gather your tool sets, six of you are to remain here, your shift starts now. Anyone not in this group, settle down at your quarters and prepare for your assigned shift.”
Though I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it, I was one of those six. The hangar chief screamed out my name and assigned me one of the fighters that had just arrived. As I walked towards it I heard yet another very familiar voice. This one though I did not have to think about much in order to know who it was.
“Adrian! Dear brother of mine, how have you been?”, I could almost taste the sarcasm in her remarks, she was always father’s favorite and still is, yet she despised how mother protected me.
“Hi Anabelle, erm, I mean, Captain.”, I nearly forgot she was a superior officer. Knowing her she could give me a hard time on the ship just for that slip.
“Oh don’t you worry little brother, you may speak freely. Father would be proud seeing you here.”, she kept walking around the fighter, staring at the hull.
“He would not approve of my position though.”, I replied.
“Oh he would not mind, as long as you’re here. I must be going though, I wanted to see your scared little face now that mother isn’t here. I have a briefing to attend to. See you around.”, her mockery was like a stab right through my heart. She knew how much I cared for mother. I took a deep breath and exhaled calmly, mother taught me as much.
My family is a strict military family. All born at one of the Proxima Centauri colonies, just about everyone was a Starlance soldier at some point, except mother. Perhaps this helped me to gain such admiration for her. I have three sisters and a brother. Anabelle was the light in father’s eyes, she rose through the ranks quickly and skillfully. The day she became captain, father made a great celebration at the colony. He even invited the president. My brother David, though not as accomplished as Anabelle, has been able to hold his own somehow. He can be a little dim witted, but I don’t worry about him, what he lacked in wit more than made up for in brawn and some marksmanship. Next is Marina, she is following Anabelle’s steps though not as successfully. For the moment she remains an accomplished pilot part of Anabelle’s command group. Finally dear sweet Dana was almost cast out of the family when she revealed she wanted to be a nurse. We rarely heard from her after she left, though occasionally she sent me letters. Dana is the only other family member I can appreciate, sadly I haven’t seen her in quite some time.
I moved around the fighter analyzing data from a scanner. At the same time I thought about how complicated my family was, all the problems at home and how eventually mother divorced. Father was often strict, as a high ranking officer should be, or should he?
The fighter was in good shape I wanted to check some minor hull damage, possibly from space debris which could have struck the ship while its shields were down. “But, wait, why were its shields down? Weren’t they on a simple patrol mission?”, I stopped, looked around everyone was busy. I couldn’t spot the chief she must have been on the control room. The hangar doors had closed, I had lost myself in thought.
A few minutes passed, then a small shake, followed by another one. The alarms blared and I looked around whilst thinking to myself, “Oh great, and here I thought this was going to be a quiet shift.”
“Warning, warning. All personnel to full combat readiness! All pilots are to report to their assigned hangar bays.”.
The carrier was under attack. I ran towards the control room were the chief was preparing standard protocols for launch.
“Chief! What are our orders?”, I had barely finished when a powerful explosion rocked the room and bay itself. I looked at the monitors, the ship had a hull breach. Crew quarters and a number of decks were completely destroyed.
“How is this even possible?!”, the chief exclaimed, then turned to a young lady sitting at the console. “Ensign prepare the ships for launch. Try and get communications with the bridge online!”
“Yes ma’am!”, replied the young lady.
“You! Quit gawking and get those fighters ready!”
“Y-yes m-ma’am.”. My nerves were getting the best of me. Before leaving the control room I looked back, I recognized the face, “Vivian!”, then a thought rushed in with a number of good memories from the academy. She and I were good friends. I was disappointed that the situation was not suited for a conversation, she had moved away from CSO a year before my own graduation.
The hangar bay doors opened, flashes of light flared by and the energy shield could be seen fluctuating. We waited about fifteen minutes, no pilots arrived. It was a sad realization, with crew quarters destroyed it was likely they were all dead. Now there was little choice, the chief decided that we would pilot the fighters ourselves and provide whatever support we could. I wasn’t fond of the idea of entering combat. After all, as a technician I thought I would not be forced to, but this situation was extreme.
A coded transmission from another vessel relayed orders from the main bridge. All internal communications were down, the ship had lost a large portion of its crew. The very fighter I had verified was now mine to use for this mission. Unlike some of my peers I had gathered some piloting experience while at CSO. Something I rarely discussed with either father or anyone else for that matter was my skill in a number of military exercises. During training I often compared my scores with those of my brother and sisters. Those scores were kept in the academy archives. At many times I was able to score much higher, though in the actual tests I purposefully tried for lower scores. I did not want to be noticed.
“This is Ensign Adrian, ready for launch.”, I reported my status and heard as the others reported in. The sounds of the cockpit were familiar, the simulators back at the academy were quite accurate. Weapons were charged, engines warmed and ready. The chief ordered us to leave the hangar bay and ready ourselves. Our mission was to provide cover fire for other fighters, strangely enough I was in one of the ships that was least prepared for that. The Starlance had commissioned about three types of star fighters from a local industrial group. They were meant to be the standard to adhere to in the system. The main fighter was fast and nimble, able to hold its ground in a dogfight. The second ship commissioned was a slower fighter that traded maneuverability for a heavier weapons payload. Finally the third was a kind of command vessel, fast yet heavily armed and armored, only experienced pilots were allowed in them.
My ship, as luck would have it, was ill prepared. I had no missiles as there was little time to load them. The only good thing was that my ship was of the second type and carried a large plasma cannon. A good charged shot and I could be safe, but who knew, the slower speeds might betray me.
“This is the real thing people, stay sharp”. I could almost feel her emotions, the chief was strong but this situation could break anyone. We exited the carrier and watched in horror the true extent of the damage. A large hole lay near the farthest end of the ship. Any closer and hangar bay sixteen would have been destroyed as well.
I matched my speed to the other fighters. Our slow approach was deliberate, we had to prepare for whatever we were going to face. As we turned towards the nearby planet we saw a large ship, about the same size as the carrier but with one obvious exception. It had a large weapon right in the middle. It had an ellipsoid shape in the back and an open maw towards its front. Considering the technological advancements of this age I would not doubt that this thing burned that hole on the carrier.
“Chief? Are there any news from the other vessels?”, I asked puzzled by the silence from the other ships.
“No, I haven’t heard from them. Our orders stand, we must protect the other fighters, whatever the reason we must follow through.”
A stream of beams started heading in our direction. The large vessel detected our approach and fired mercilessly. As turret fire goes these things had good accuracy, one of our teammates was struck, their ship’s shields were quickly overwhelmed. Another death, I was beginning to regret my decision to enter Starlance. The squadron was forced to disperse, though we continued closing towards the enemy ship. Once there we saw the other capital ships from the fleet concentrating all their weapons fire on the unknown vessel. “I wonder if the pirates stole this technology from another system”, I thought.
Moving around swiftly the enemy fighters were clumsy and careless, I was able to defeat multiple foes. My training had paid off. The Chief signaled the good work, but reminded me not to get overconfident.
Then, when the vessel seemed like it could take no more damage an energy surge began to build at the base of the weapon. It was readying for another shot, one very risky final shot that could mean the end of the carrier. What little energy shielding remained was being focused on the weapon. Utilizing the scanning equipment on my ship I searched for weak points or openings that could provide an advantage.
The power surge within the confines of the weapon was an unstable process, unavoidable as well for such a device. This was all that was needed, a breach in the shielding that was protecting the weapon and a blast of plasma energy. Needless to say I was ready and willing. I broke off from the group who was still battling against a number of foes. Sadly another comrade lost his life a moment just after I broke off.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going?!”, screamed the Chief, obviously angered at the loss of another crewman. My sudden break in formation also concerned her.
I explained as best I could, though I knew she had little confidence I could pull this off. “I am the only one that can disrupt that weapon, two shots is all I need. One to destabilize the shielding and a second to damage the weapon to cause a chain reaction.”
“Are you crazy?! There is no way in hell I’m going to allow you to do that, get back here and leave that ship to the others! That’s an order ensign!”, her anger was palpable.
I was already too far off to turn back. The monitor in front of me showed the charging progress, my ship’s plasma cannon was almost ready. As soon as I could, I let loose the first blast of energy. My calculations were correct, the shield broke away, but I was wrong in one thing. I did not anticipate the energy to become so violently dispersed. The reaction came sooner than I thought. A bright flash of light signaled a breach by the other ships, the large vessel was breaking apart but not before one last energy blast left the main weapon. The powerful energy beam pushed away all the fighters near it, including mine. In the panic I could barely see were this blast went. The carrier was safe, but the vessel found a way to escape. I saw in another flash of light our enemy leaving this horrible scene.
I tumbled through space. All systems offline, perhaps I would hit another fighter and end my career in quite the spectacular way. “Would father be proud now?”