Authors: David Guenther
The ten ships continued to approach just under the speed of light. The patrol ship Captains were both infuriated. Internal security had taken what would have been their kill and had forbidden them from even recording the destruction as they still received fire from the shuttle. Neither Captain thought to even challenge internal security as that was how officers disappeared.
“Dart Flight, Dart One, like we called it. Break into two flights as planned in five seconds and unload on both ships. Major Rogers this is Dart Flight commander. Head immediately for moon two and rendezvous with the Arizona Space Ship Beater.”
“Major Rogers is now heading for the Arizona Space Ship Beater. Good timing, boys, we softened them up for you.” Captain Young looked over at Short Blade and saw his eyes were huge. “Short Blade, you don’t mind us sharing in the kill do you?” Short Blade recovered from his shock and his resolve that he was soon going to die.
“We should deliver our cargo as the commander wants. I am sure he will be unhappy," Short Blade stated trying to act nonchalant. Young headed for the second moon ready to get his ass reamed for endangering the cargo and the mission.
Both Dart flights lined up on their targets in trail formation on the patrol ships. Matt lead the first flight over the patrol ship from head to tail firing everything he had. The enemy ship filled his entire view as he fired all weapons as his ship shuddered from the recoil and was lit up from the weapons flames. Matt turned hard to the right and up just before the patrol craft exploded. The next four ships checked their fire as the vessel exploded with the flight having to pull away to avoid damage.
Suzy closed with the second enemy vessel, her flight following in close formation. Lining up on the target, Suzy copied the tactic Matt had used and began firing when the patrol craft returned fire hitting Dart Ten at the end of the formation with a short burst of laser fire before the ship turned into a huge ball of fire that quickly burned out leaving a blackened hulk drifting in space.
Dart One, Dart Ten, I took some fire on that pass. My boards are lit up like a Christmas tree. I've lost control of my ship and smell smoke. I'm going to have—"
The bright flash of Dart Ten exploding drew the attention of the entire flight. Matt caught himself from crying out as he regained his composer. Every Dart driver was filled with emotion for the loss of one of their own. “Darts on me we’re heading for home. Be ready for FTL travel as soon as we land. Commander Johnson wants to leave. I don’t see anything to keep us here either. Good job out there. Goodbye, Zach, you did good.”
The shuttle landed in the Beaters bay without any problems. Young was making his way to the back of the shuttle over the cargo when he saw the Captain waiting for him outside the shuttle. The thought of the ass chewing he was about to get got his adrenalin flowing again and he was once again ready for battle. Jumping to the deck in front of the Captain he was surprised when he was quickly hugged.
“Damn good show, Young. We got our material and destroyed two enemy ships. Plus we established the beginning of diplomatic relations with the Republic. As a reward, I’m going to let you and your team head directly for the showers then your berths. As soon as the Darts land we are engaging the FTL drive for home. You get to avoid being sick.”
Adrenalin left Young’s body with the good news. He felt almost ready to collapse to the deck. “Thank you sir, I want to thank Matt and his pirates for saving our collective bacon, then head for my berth.”
“Captain Young you will head for the showers now with your team. I highly encourage the gratuitous use of soap,” Commander Johnson said firmly no longer standing close to Young.
Young took a whiff of himself and understood as he realized he and his entire team stunk of onions.
“Short Blade, Jones, head for the showers now. Jones, afterward you are released from duty. Head for your berth, we will be using the FTL pretty soon. Short Blade you are released from my command and once again part of the ship's crew. You did an outstanding job today. Thanks for not eating any of the Zians.”
Young turned and left before Short Blade could reply. He was beyond even reviewing how the mission had gone as he felt he would collapse any second.
Dart flight returned to the Arizona Space Ship Beater in trail formation. Each member deep in thought over the loss of Zach. The flight had just parked their fighters. The Darts had not even shut down their engines when they felt the transition to the FTL drive.
“Everyone complete your post flight inspections then head for your racks. Suzy you can wait until we drop out to normal space to rearm your ship, same for you Mary, good shooting. We will have a mission debrief when we drop to normal space then we will have services for Zach. Dismissed." Matt turned away from the flight and quickly headed for his berth as he felt the effects of the FTL drive as he fought back the tears. The rest of the flight watched him go each feeling sorry for him as the rest of the flight hugged each other and wept openly for their loss.
Suzy was not sure of herself as she knocked on Matt's hatch. The door opened and Matt stood in the entryway in only a pair of shorts. His eyes were red and puffy as Suzy instinctively moved to him and hugged him deeply to her. She once again began to cry as she looked up to his face and saw he too was crying as he pulled her into his cabin and closed the hatch.
"You're not alone we all need to share the loss. Zach was a friend to all of us," Suzy stammered between sobs.
"Yeah, but I'm the one that got him killed. He could still be safe back on Earth. All because I wanted to be a shuttle pilot and have some excitement," Matt said angrily.
"Zach loved every minute of his new life. The nanites were able to cure him of his problems and he loved having friends and being part of a team for the first time in his life. Do you really think he wanted to be shoveling shit on farmer's fields for the rest of his life? He went out on his own terms. He went out happy. That’s the most anyone can ask for," Suzy sobbed.
Matt looked down at Suzy and hugged her firmly as he opened the hatchway to his cabin. "Thank you Suzy. I appreciate you stopping by," Matt said as he escorted her to the hall and closed the hatchway.
Commander Johnson watched from the end of the passageway as Suzy left Matt's cabin. Kyle took a deep breath and decided to get it over with walking to the hatchway then knocking on it. When Matt did not reply he ordered the hatchway open. Looking into the cabin Matt was sitting on his bunk with his head buried in his hands. He looked up to see who was interrupting his time of sorrow and immediately began to jump to attention. "At ease, Matt, sit. I wanted to let you know there will be no investigation of the loss of Dart ten, it's been determined loss due to combat. I know this is hard on you as this is your first casualty. It will not be your last either. It will not get easier and you will never get used to it. You will always feel the pain and the loss. If you didn't you would not deserve the job. If you want to talk you know where to find me," Kyle said as he exited the cabin.
Arizona Space Ship Beater League of Planets Space
17 September 2128
Short Blade was looking over the Darts in the hangar bay. He had heard that only three fighters had fired on the patrol ships. Going into the maintenance locker, he took out the tool kit to clean the weapons on the three ships. The beamers required no servicing as he expected. The old earth technology called 40 mm cannons had left deposits from the ammunition being fired. Guns had told him that the weapon was never meant for space but that the propellant had trapped air from when the shell was assembled enabling it to be fired in vacuum. Short Blade opened a small container and dumped the contents into the weapons barrel then plugged the barrel as specially designed nanites began to consume the unburnt powder and other materials in the barrel and around the firing mechanism. Five minutes later he felt the nanites returning to the container as it got heavier. Short blade proceeded on to the next dart and repeated the procedure till all three were complete. Reporting back to the bridge Short Blade was amazed to see the seven foot giant Lt. Thomas “Tiny” Shaw on his hand and knees puking into a bucket. Remembering the many times when he had been a smart ass towards Short Blade made him less sympathetic. As he remembered comical advice Guns had once given to Jimmy.
“Lieutenant Shaw, keep on puking it all out. Once you feel something hairy, be sure to stop, that will be your asshole.” Short Blade smiled as the lieutenant tried to look menacing back at him.
“Sir, if you are trying to be intimidating may I suggest getting off your hands and knees. Body posture is very important.”
Shaw stood and hovered over Short Blade for a moment then could not stop from laughing. “Little guy, you are one of the bravest folks I know, but don’t push it.”
Fort McCoy, Wisconsin
18 September 2128
The Gray Panther team had spent two days going over the optical deflection combat suits with the Army trainers. After going over operation and maintenance, the trainers looked like they were over saturated. The Gray Panthers decided it was time to take a walk in the beautiful Wisconsin forest to show the limitations of the suits. A request for transportation was answered with an old yellow school bus. After explaining where they wanted to go the bus driver simply started driving down a gravel road.
The Gray Panther lead instructor MSgt Peter West told the driver to halt after passing an old convertible mustang on the side of the road. The back seat had loose arrows covering it.
"OK, gentlemen, the objective of this exercise will be to find the bow hunter that belong to that car. You will then stay within thirty feet of him undiscovered for ten minutes. At that time you have passed the exercise and may return to the classroom. Only one group at a time may be near the hunters, if you interfere with their hunt you have failed the exercise. If they discover you, you have failed the exercise. If they shoot you with an arrow you have failed the exercise. Good luck, now activate your suits before you leave the bus. Bus driver, we no longer need you. You are about to witness something top secret if word is leaked, well you don’t want to leak anything,” West briefed. To the driver the bus interior looked slightly out of focus as each member noisily exited the bus. Each group headed in a different direction as West’s group noisily broke trail leaving the road.
“HALT! I do not want to hear one damn more thing. Move with the wind, be the wind. Tree branches and bushes do not move on their own. Now get it together. I’m going to take off my spectrum glasses and see if I can find you.” Taking off the glasses he was suddenly alone. He decided five minutes would be a fair head start.
“Trainer one, two,” the army trainer radioed.
“Two, one, shoot,” Peter answered hiding his annoyance.
“One, we’re one hundred yards north of the mustang and proceeding with the exercise of monitoring the hunters close up. Both subjects are female late thirties, medium height, athletic build, and blonde. Fifteen feet up a tree. Change that, one is coming down.”
“Ignore the tree girl; stay close to the walker. Get your ten minutes in with her then head back to the classroom and evaluate the students in the class.”
Peter turned to where he felt the class was. “Class leader, listen up. One hundred yards north of the mustang is a female hunter. In ten minutes the other class will depart and then you will shadow her for ten minutes.” The soft crunching of leaves infuriated MSgt West as he saw what he was looking for. Picking up a branch as thick as his wrist he stated softly unemotionally, “I am going to ram this stick up the ass of the next stupid son of a bitch that makes a sound. He will not hear me coming and I’m not even wearing my spectrum glasses!” He then softly commed to Grub, “Grub, please keep me one yard to the right of the center of my class in parallel formation please.”
The class was immediately impressed with the old soldier who was now training them. Peter further scared them when he would stop and smell the air and softly say, “Fe Fi Fo Fum I smell a dirty bum!” Almost eliciting a laugh from the nervous students. Ten minutes later they had the hunter surrounded as they tried not to be heard as they tried to keep up as she moved soundlessly through the woods at a quick pace bow at the ready. After completing their stalking and moving away there was a general relief from the students. Peter ordered them to power down and was embarrassingly close to them. “OK, I will give the class a pass if you can make it back to the classroom in ten minutes. You will stay powered down to avoid being hit by vehicles or shot by hunters. Now move it!”
The class followed its class leader as he ran all out in the wrong direction as the blonde hunter walked up to Peter. “They weren’t too bad, Dad, I only heard one once.”
“I heard it too, these guys are going to train the Army in how to wear and use this gear so they have to appreciate what they are doing. You going to leave your sister in the tree stand when you give me a ride back?”
“I already broke down my stand, Dad. Are you ready to go?" the voice from behind him asked.
“Everyone just get in the damn car. I don’t know what I did wrong to get a pair of smart ass twins in my life!” The angry tone was betrayed by the smile on his face. As the mustang drove up on the students running alongside the road, Peter initiated his gear so it appeared the girls were by themselves. As the girls slowed while passing the entire class started to whistle and holler. When the car stopped four soldiers tried to talk the girls into a ride as Peter powered down. “You assholes are disrespecting my daughters and trying to cheat on returning to the classroom! You just lost three minutes. I’ll be waiting!”
Six minutes later the class received their diplomas and permission to retain the suits on the condition that they were secured when not in use.
“I hear one story about a woman thinking she has an invisible intruder and I’ll be here ASAP. Good luck, it was not bad working with you,” Peter said to the class.