Authors: David Guenther
Gray Panther Head Quarters
18 September 2128
MSgt West was on the phone from Fort McCoy Wisconsin, with General Black. “Sir, the Army trainers will be adequate to train the Army soldiers in the basics for suit functionality. I believe we will need to give the advanced training in order that the Gray Panthers and our other forces are equally trained.”
“Thank you, MSgt. West. I will take that under advisement. Did either of your daughters get a deer this year?”
“No, sir, I think the students scared all the deer off the fort.”
“Better luck next year. Bring it on home then.”
“Thank you, General Black.”
Black commed Dan after the call, “Dan, sounds like Army will be able to give basic equipment training as planned. MSgt West just evaluated them in Wisconsin.”
“Thanks, Black Jack, that’s some good news.”
“You still worried about the supply run to the Republic?
“Only until they are safely home.”
“We sent the best and the brightest; I’m sure they’ll be back before you know it.”
“Thanks, BJ. I’ll keep you updated.”
Arizona Space Ship Beater Deep Space
24 September 2128
Commander Johnson was at the helm when Lt. Horton advised it was only a few minutes until they drop back into normal space.
“Commander Johnson to crew, we are about to drop into normal space everyone take your positions.” With the ship at full alert, the drop back into normal space was a relief. The entry was less than an hour from the moon. Johnson like the rest of the crew was quickly recovering from using the FTL drive as they made their way to the moon using the thrusters.
“Beater, try to contact the probes we dropped off and see if they have any information for us on Shangri-La.”
“I don’t understand sir. What is Shangri-La?” Beater asked confused.
“Shangri-La is what I have named the moon as the first explorer to get to it as my right as Captain.”
“Sir we are not receiving any information and it appears probes have been destroyed.”
Commander Johnson immediately hit the General alarm button on his console. Shields were activated and crew that were already in their positions became alert.
“Full stop. Beater, let me know as soon as you know the cause of destruction for the probes. Prepare to launch another probe.”
“Sir I am picking energy signatures from the moon. It appears to have numerous cities and population centers.”
“Send out a hail on all channels who we are and that we are friendly explorers. Include that we will not continue towards their world unless invited. So much for Shangri-La.”
“Arizona Space Ship Beater, this is Dixie Defense Command. You are in restricted space. We are going to launch a shuttle to scan you. Afterwards you will be allowed to proceed.”
“Dixie Defense Command, we accept your gracious invitation. We will hold in place.”
The launch from the moon was not detected so it was assumed the shuttle was in orbit out of view from the Beater.
“Beater scan the shuttle and let me know what you find,” Johnson said with a slight worry in his voice.
“Captain, the shuttle is similar to our shuttles in that it has the exact same engines, definitely Flem manufacture. Composition of the hull is very similar to those made on earth. The shuttle is not manned. I am detecting what appears to be an extremely large engine in their cargo area. Correction it is an energy weapon. It—”
The shuttle emitted an electromagnetic pulse that plunged the Beater into darkness. Johnson looked around the bridge as everything looked red from the emergency lighting. “Beater, report,” Johnson ordered anxiously.
The Major Rogers AI replied, “Captain Johnson Beater will not be back online for at least ten minutes. Ships launching from the surface will be here in five. The Major Rogers and the Darts were adequately shielded by the Beater that they can launch to defend the ship.”
“Very good, Rogers, give the command to all pilots to man their ships. Order all crew chiefs to the launch bay to assist as needed in full space gear. We will be losing our atmosphere in the bay without a force field as soon as we open the hatches. Why not use our other shuttle also?” the Commander asked.
“Sir that shuttle is coordinating repairs to the ship including providing energy to life support and the grav plates,” the Major Rogers AI replied.
Matt and his flight were climbing into their ships as they were already on standby alert.
“OK boys and girls, we don’t know what to expect out there so we will launch in pairs. Follow my lead and we will see what we are up against. Major Rogers, I want you to follow up in the rear and act as our liaison since you have the best sensors. I also want you near the Beater in case any hostiles get by us to act as last line of defense.”
The crews waited in the Darts as Guns and Short Blade finished donning their suits in order to manually open the main hatch. As the hatch opened, all loose debris could be seen evacuating out the hatchway into space as the hatch was finally open far enough to launch.
Matt felt the calm come over him as he slowly went through the hatch and engaged his thrusters kicking him back into the seat. Immediately he took a heading for the enemy shuttle drifting in space and fired a short burst of 40 mm that caused the shuttle to explode sending debris in all directions. Matt then turned on a new heading towards the moon as his flight followed him in a loose formation of pairs.
“Dart Leader, Rogers.”
“Rogers, Dart Leader, go ahead.”
“Dart Leader, Rogers, there are twelve shuttles that are the same as the one that used the EMP on the ship. They do not have any EMP devices and are armed with lasers and rockets with two man crews.”
The same time he was getting his report on his screen he saw the enemy ships did not seem to be in any formation and were each heading for the Beater like a mob.
“Dart Flight, Dart One, form up in line abreast. We will go through these boys then attack in pairs. Most important targets are whoever is closest to the Beater. It’s a long walk home.”
“Dart Leader, Rogers.”
“Rogers, Dart Leader, go ahead.”
“Dart Leader, Rogers, I am intercepting their communications, they are transmitting video among themselves. The pilots are human.”
“Rogers, Dart Leader, go ahead and break into their chat with your avatar and let them know we might be cousins before either of us draw first blood.”
“Dixie Flight, this is the Major Rogers. Break off your attack we are humans from the planet Earth. We do not want to fight you, but if we do it will be like Sherman’s march to the sea!”
“Dixie Flight, this is the Beater. Disregard The Major Rogers, he is a God damn Yankee. We come in peace and do not want to start a new war between our brothers. Stand down before first blood is drawn, my brothers of Earth,” Beater spoke ensuring his full uniform was visible.
“Beater, this is Dixie Defense Command. Recall your fighters and we will follow suit.”
Commander Johnson looked around the flight deck with all eyes on him. “Beater, are we fully functional now? If needed could we defend ourselves against the enemy shuttles if they resume their attack?”
“Yes, sir, they are no match for the Beater”
“Order the Darts to a heading of 180 degrees and hold with the Major Rogers.” The Darts retreated as ordered, while the enemy shuttles continued towards them until they broke contact and returned towards their home.
"Commander Johnson, I believe the humans we just encountered are the descendents of those kidnapped by the Jacka during the 1860s from Earth. I would further recommend we try to establish diplomatic relations with them. I believe their attack on us was based on fear and not knowing we are from Earth. They may have technology that could aid us in our war against the Libra," Beater recommended.
"Damn it we should not even be here. We should have already been on our way to Earth. Our cargo is too important to let waste or risk losing by taking it into combat." Johnson replied while checking the status of the Dixie ships.
"Sir, I suggest we try to offer an exchange of officers so we can use that as a building block towards starting relations." Commander Poland suggested.
"Are you volunteering to be the officer we swap?" Johnson now was openly sizing up Poland.
"Well you can't. You are too valuable and know too much," Johnson continued, "Beater connect me with Dixie Command."
“Dixie Defense Command this is the Beater. We must leave now because we are on a time sensitive mission. I would like to leave an officer behind to brief you about Earth and perhaps receive a representative in exchange that we can take to Earth to lay the ground work for possible diplomatic relations,” Johnson suggested.
“Beater this is President Davis. I accept your offer of exchanging officials. We will launch a shuttle in thirty minutes with our representative.”
“Thank you, Mr. President, I suggest we have the shuttles dock at the half way point between us to transfer representatives,” Johnson suggested
“That will be fine. I want to use this moment to apologize for our unprovoked attack on your ship. You are the first visitor we have had since our arrival here. Dixie out.”
“Beater, review all records and recommend best choice to be left behind as temporary diplomat.”
“Best recommendation would be Scott Scholl. They would respect his age and imagine he is more important than he is. He has also shown a great degree of tact. He is also without any family in case they double cross us.”
“Dart Nine, Beater. Return to base as soon as possible for new assignment.”
“Beater, Dart Nine copies RTB.”
“Dart Flight Leader, Beater.”
“Beater, Dart Flight Leader, go ahead.”
“Dart Flight Leader, Beater. Maintain your position until the swap has been completed then return to ship so we can proceed to Earth.”
“Beater, Dart Flight Leader copies,” Matt replied furious that his friend was now being placed in danger.
Guns was already waiting as Dart Nine flew through the force field to the launch bay. Immediately behind Dart Nine Major Rogers landed. Guns had Scotts sea bag already full of clothing and all of his personal effects from his cabin. Guns had added an electronic tablet filled with Earths history as well.
“Good luck Scotty. I threw in a tablet you are to give the Dixies. It has Earth history on it. Captain says we will be back in for you as soon as we can. When we return if everything is OK use the word "white," if you are under duress or things have turned bad use the word, "black." If they plan an immediate attack use the word, "red.”
“Thanks, Guns, sure you don’t want to take my place?"
“Sorry I can’t stand the taste of mint juleps’ after all my time in the south,” Guns replied as the shuttle hatch closed between them.
Scotty looked around the empty shuttle bay and tried to fight his nervousness. He took stock of his situation as he looked over himself. He was still wearing his flight suit with his shoulder holster and 10mm automatic. The weight of the weapon felt reassuring. Scotty removed the holster and set it on the seat next to him reasoning he was now a diplomat and not a warrior. The Major Rogers tried to start small talk but Scotty's heart was not in it. The foreign shuttle approached as Major Rogers called to it.
“Dixie shuttle, this is the Major Rogers. Please hold your position and I will dock with you.”
“That is acceptable please proceed, Major Rogers”
The hookup between ships was flawless as Scotty watched the hatch light turn from red to green. He then began to open it as he saw a figure that seemed human except that he could not see through the helmet visor of the space suit to be sure. Scotty offered his hand as the other took it and shook hands before walking past and into the Major Rogers. Scotty proceeded to the shuttle and found three more crew in full space suits waiting for him as one walked him to a seat and strapped him in as the others closed the hatch. The shuttle interior was a dull white and was very similar to other ships he had seen. The bench seats and lap belts were also very similar. None of the crew said anything or even seemed interested in Scotty as they finished departing the other shuttle. Finally, one spoke to Scotty.
“You can remove your helmet if you want. We had an accident a few years back and don’t always trust these things,” a female in her twenties said as she removed her helmet showing a bright red head of hair parted down the middle. Scotty noticed her bright blue eyes as she turned towards him and offered to help remove his helmet. Waving her off, he removed it and almost laughed at the shocked look on her face.
“What’s the matter, red? Do I have something caught in my teeth? I hate when that happens,” Scotty asked.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t expect someone so—”
“Cute you meant to say? Don’t worry I get that back home all the time too,” Scotty flirted as he saw the other two female also were each removing their helmets showing bright red hair.
“Does everyone have red hair in Dixie or is it just a coincidence for the three of you?”
“We are actually triplets. There’s a lot of different colored hair on Dixie,” Red said.
“Ladies lets' start over. I am Lt. Scott Scholl, Fighter Pilot, gentleman landowner and farmer from the great state of Wisconsin,” Scotty said bowing from the waist as best he could from his seat.
“Charmed, I’m sure. I am Sam, this is Gabe, and that’s Pat. We’re of the Culpepper clan. We are all doing our two years of military service. We are all transport pilots.
“Wow, are there a lot of different militaries on Dixie?” Scott asked.
“No, silly, we only have one government, but we have a strong military so that we never get taken advantage of again by aliens,” Sam explained.
“Do you know who the Flem are? Did they bring you here?” Scott asked.
“Yes, how did you know that?” Sam asked suspiciously.
“I heard the story about how the Flem brought the Jacka to Earth then kidnapped a thousand people. They then accidentally died in transit and were dumped in space.”
“No, the Flem abandoned us here with a machine. The machine built our tools and everything we needed to get started here. Later it was used as a teacher for us to learn science and mathematics. We have a society without sickness or poverty," Sam said proudly.