Episode 4: Camaraderie
A week, time where the cycle of waking, research, work and sleeping became long and tedious. The one positive outcome of all this was the friendship I had forged with Mara, Vivian and strangely with Major Caplan. The old man, in his late fifties, was honorable to a fault and worried much about his fellow soldiers. It could be said that he was more attentive than even the captain. He would have a much higher rank if it wasn’t for this, at many times a mission is far more important than the life of a soldier, at least according to Starlance.
During this time a funeral service was held for the soldiers that were lost during the attack. It was here that I met two new friends who had sadly lost a brother in the battle. James and Crystal Collins mourned the passing of their brother. Their bond as family was strong and they were able to recover fairly quickly. They both worked the shift after mine, so we usually met after I was finished. The Collins family was about as tied to Starlance as my own family. Their path was much different though, the brothers and sister joined about a year ago and transferred to the Proxima Eclipse once it had finished construction. The father was an accomplished pilot, but not a fighter pilot, he was at the helm of a much more difficult starship. Alpha Aurora, a destroyer from the Alpha Centauri division of Starlance, was the ship he worked in.
Major Caplan ordered me to review and research any soldiers who had the potential to join us. Any help we could gather was vital for our continued operation to save Starlance or perhaps save the people in it. In this week I learned how communications protocols began to break down, soldiers were often given orders that had to be executed regardless of how much sense they made. This also affected how much information was passed down from high ranking officers to the lower ranks. The move to Centauri Starlance Four was not widely known after three days into the trip. Additionally a mandatory shore leave was scheduled for much of the crew since the repairs on the carrier would take at least two weeks to complete.
My mission on CSF was clear, find our liaison and proceed to escort him from the station to a meeting point at a set of coordinates that he was given. My cover for the mission was fairly simple, Mara was to set out with a transport to gather very specific supplies and parts for the hangar and the other fighters. I would escort her to a jump point and from there proceed to the rendezvous. The fighter assigned to me was yet again the ship I had used before. By now I had a certain familiarity with it, so I gave it a name, Star Shadow.
I arrived as scheduled to hangar bay sixteen, Lieutenant Commander Colton, the snob who continually questioned our moves and motives, was there talking with Mara.
“Like I said, these supplies have to be gathered at Centauri Starlance Two. These parts are not available here, sir.”, Mara had to explain for the third time, but as communications in the ship went she didn’t want to take any chances of getting a reprimand.
“Very well, was the captain informed?”, he asked with all the weight of his authority.
“Yes sir, here is the approval for the mission.”, the data pad on her hand showed the captain’s signature.
“Carry on then, but make sure you are back in time, I would hate for you to have to stay behind.”
“As you say sir.”
I walked up to her as the lieutenant passed by me. As he was walking he looked back at me but said nothing. He was soon out of the hangar bay. “Troublesome man isn’t he? Are we all set?”
“Urgh, don’t remind me. Remember get to the hangar we specified on the station, I will follow closely. Our friend should meet you there with the coordinates he got. Do be careful kid, you’ll be dealing with pirates and in this part of space all of them are dangerous.”
“I’ll keep a lookout.”, I began walking towards Star Shadow but before I took the first step up the ladder Vivian stopped me.
“Here, take this”, she handed me a small claw like charm on an adjustable leather string, “it’ll keep you safe, or at least remind you of this, of all of us and our friendship.”
“I-I’ll be happy to carry it.”
“It’s from Earth, don’t lose it!”, she smiled.
I nodded and then continued my climb. I placed the charm around my neck, put on my helmet and sealed the cockpit. All was set, shields were online, weapons ready. I didn’t have a payload of missiles as it was unnecessary and would draw too much attention.
When I arrived at the station hangar I was able to identify our ally quickly, he was ready to leave. I didn’t even get off my ship, he threw a small data drive up to me once the cockpit had opened and then he boarded his own ship. “How polite of him, not even a name.”, I thought. The drive had the coordinates I needed and a warning to leave all the negotiations to him. We left the hangar bay behind and joined Mara just outside.
Ten minutes into our flight and we reached our splitting point near a navigation satellite.
“This is it, we now part ways. Like I said earlier, be careful, this is a risky mission. Everything must be done quickly. We meet back in a few hours at this same Nav-Sat, clear?”
“Acknowledged, Star Shadow out.”, I could hear Mara scoffing and maybe even a smile must have broken her mask of seriousness. The moment when a ship makes a light jump can be described as fascinating. A bubble is formed that fits the ship in a pocket of space that then propels it at the speed of light. First a speedy start and then nothing, whatever light that reflected on that object no longer reaches our eyes. It was almost poetic.
My friend on the other ship was a silent companion. Our jump was easy and we reached the stated coordinates with no incident. After a few minutes three ships appeared. The energy from the jump fields dissipated and quickly gave away their positions. Two of the ships were highly modified fighters. I could identify some of the modifications with my own ship’s scanners. The greatest advantage they could draw to themselves was their speed. Engine modifications were common for certain groups of pirates who favored hit and run tactics. As far as transport ships go, this one had just one modification, large empty spaces for cargo. It appeared as if they had more to do after our little deal.
I stood by for any indications of hostilities while my very polite friend did the talking. The communications were set on a very secure channel, had I tried to spy on them perhaps they would have noticed. Minutes seemed to stretch on and on. Dealing with pirates was stressful, after all they had a tendency for backstabbing, especially when Starlance was involved.
So far everything seemed in order. My silent friend transferred over to the transport ship by docking his fighter to a cargo bay. He then signaled me to do the same. I hesitated, but he reassured me that everything was going well.
Once inside the transport ship, three of the pirates arrived. All were heavily armed. They gave something to my collaborator.
“Hey kid, were done here.”, said the nameless one.
“You have the data pack?”
“Of course I do, here take this. Its an empty pack, I had it just in case.”
“Oh, sure”, I wasn’t certain why but I could feel a lot of tension building in that cargo bay. At a quick pace I returned to my ship and readied for departure. On that very moment things turned for the worse. Sensors picked up two ships arriving and scans indicated they were pirates, a different group.
“Uh, oh. This could be bad. What do we do?”, I asked though I knew what was going to happen.
“You will get out of here as fast as you can, I will do the same.”
After disengaging from the transport the two ships that arrived opened fire as soon as they got in range. The two fighters accompanying the transport engaged the hostiles leaving the transport unguarded. Distance mounted between the fighters and the transport, they were being drawn away. As we neared our jump point three more pirate vessels arrived. Two more fighters joined up and a larger ship with heavy weapons. The two fighters set their sights on us. Missiles were fired and our maneuvering skills were put to the test. During my pilot training at the academy I learned a number of tactics from elite pilots. These simulations were reserved for those who had high scores, so I hacked into the system and took the training. Punishment for such action could have cost me, but remaining unnoticed was a big priority for me.
One charged plasma blast and one of the fighters was blown to pieces. The second one still eluded me. My friend was having a rough time, the larger ship had targeted him and fired using a number of turrets. Our time was running out so we tried to push closer and closer to the jump point. Suddenly, in a short moment of time, the mission had failed. A single missile fired by the remaining fighter that was chasing us destroyed my ally’s ship. The blast reaction was like none I had seen before, the missile must have had an additional effect upon impact. I had no time to analyze the situation, I was their next target.
The jump point was very close to me but the fire from the fighter and the other ship forced me to maneuver outside the specific coordinates. I had no choice but to engage them. Since my ship was well prepared for battling a heavily armored vessel I decided to combat the larger ship. I needed about three plasma shots and some additional fire from the laser cannons. The plasma cannon was fully charged but when I was about to make the first shot the small fighter confronted me head on. Determined to fire I pressed down on the trigger. The blast destroyed the ship but the debris from it would become a hazard as it made its way towards me. As best I could I pulled away and reset my course.
To my surprise after I took the next shot they disengaged and a transmission arrived.
“You fight well for a Starlance pilot, I did not expect having to fight your kind in this part of space. I have no more time for you, but I hope that we may meet again someday.”, said a man with a strange accent. He sounded much like some men from the Earth movies father watched.
As the vessel moved away I saw a large explosion to my side, the transport ship was no more. Once I was at the right jump coordinates I left that region of space behind, glad that I had escaped with my life.