(It should be noted that this is a fictional account of a historical event that occured on 97.4AT.)
The shaped charge detonates, popping out a clean circular section of air-lock door. A cloud of fine dust is disturbed as the air-lock equalizes pressure with the rest of the Cetannos.
“By squad, go go go!”
Booted feet stomp soundlessly into the cavernous airlock, usually reserved for heavy mining equipment and snub-nosed loaders.
“Danton,Wires … get on that inner door. Move it.”
The imagery shifts. Squads 11 and 23 are already to Corridor D. You can actually see squad leader Jeffries suddenly understand. His posture changes. You can see him draw breath to order the pull-back.
He turns his head.
“Pull back!” yells Devin Jakrell.
“Back from where? What’s up Jak?” inquires an incredulous Jason Karnor.
“Oh, god man, I’m sorry. I was…dreaming, I guess.”
“Understood.” Heavy with meaning.
Devin knows that Jason does understand. He’s had similar dreams. They all have.
Devin shakes the fog out of his head. He is in Sim-Bay 6 at Wake station. He figures he must of dozed off while the were running that missile evasion sim, over and over.
“You let me sleep?”
“Hell, I have that evasion scheme down. And you need the sleep.”
Devin feels he should be angry, but Jason was right.
“One of these days you won’t be able to figure out a way to avoid getting chewed out, Karnor.”
“And on that day, I’ll put on a priests hat, get down on both knees and bless Hamalzah.”
“Who is getting down on their knees?” comes a voice from the entrance.
“Don’t get excited Faroh, it’s not what you think.”
Headwires and Vagrant file in behind Faroh, completing the set. Devin checks his chrono: 1730, group sim training.
“Well gang, my internal clock is all out of whack after that overnight mask in Hyp Gate. I really need to lay my head down. Besides, we have odd numbers until we can coax some fellow exiles back into the saddle, so I want you in pairs working on wing tactics.”
“Yeah, you do look awful, Jak.”
“Wires, just cos this isn’t officially the special forces anymore doesn’t mean I won’t put you on latrine duty.”
“But they are self cleaning…”
“I can think of plenty of ways of dirtying a latrine in ways a droid has no way of coping with. Don’t push me, wires.”
“Come on man, I’m just messing around.”
“I know. I’ll have a sense of humor once I get some shuteye. No slacking off guys, the threat level from Virescere and other Quantar groups is rising daily. I want you sharp as a Lexxor virboblade for tomorrow’s patrol run.”
A variety of acknowledgements received, Devin Jakrell heads to his quarters, with any luck, to sleep.
Typically, there was work to be done before Devin could sleep.
The group known as The Brotherhood, the most powerful of Quantar military forces, had finally made it’s intentions clear.
The fragile peace after the last full blown Solrain-Quantar War had been cracked by the insurgency of Virescere, and it looked to be shattered now that 3rd Battalion had shown that Solrain would not lie down.
…but it will not shield you from destruction.
Head of Operations
Devin rubbed his eyes, then mashed the SEND key.
He leant back in the chair, his eyes slowly closing.
“Wires, get on that inner door. Move it!”
The operation was moving smoothly. The circular section of door was still comically pancaking to a standstill as headwires moved in three bounding leaps across the airlock to the control panel. Quickly he popped the cover off, and patched in.
“Jak, you and your squad have babysitting duty for wires.” Barked Aaron Duval. “Once the door is open I want you to take the first door on the left, that should be auxillary security. I want eyes and ears before we get through to Corridor C.”
“No problem boss.” Grunted wires, as he rapidly depressed keys.
Duval bounced over to the entrance to the complex where Charlie group was waiting, lead by Settin Jeffries and squad 11.
Devin Jakrell watched him go, and brought the pulse rifle from his shoulder to a ready position. “OK! Jason, you have point. You will cover the approach down Corridor A while wires breaches the aux security door.” He pauses, listening to his comm. “Just received supplementary orders from Duval, the rest of you are reinforcing Squad 23.”
A series of grunts and assents marked the order, and the rest of squad 17 loped across the airlock. They had just gotten into position as the base entrance doors flashed from Red to Green. Headwires had gotten them in.
“Corridor A is clean. Go for entry.”
Headwires looked at the door for a full five seconds. Then he turned the handle. Bizzarrely, it wasn’t locked. Sensing a trap, he passed a scanner around the door seams. Clean. Shrugging, he kicked the door open and dived clear. Nothing.
“Talk about sloppy.” Mutters Jakrell. “Well, I guess this puts us ahead of schedule. Get on those monitors.”
“You got it.” Headwires begins to power up the monitors.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.” crackles the comm unit in Devin’s ear. It’s Lisa, squad 23’s Med-Tech. Devin’s fiancée.
The monitors power up, each one displaying a face. Her face. But not hers, not anymore. Carved roughly into her forehead are words: “I love you.”
Devin Jakrell falls off the swivel chair. His monitor is on power saving mode. He shivers, and looks away. He glances at the bed, it’s soft mattress and warm cover inviting him. A grimace passes over his face. He moves purposefully to the bathroom and splashes water on his face. He reaches into the medicine cabinet, and, seemingly unconscious of his actions, pops two stims.
“Sleep is for the dead.”
Devin Jakrell exits his quarters, and heads for the flightdeck.
As Jakrell is heading for the logistics center to berate Wake management for failing to supply effective combat gear, he falls into a conscious daydream.
Alex “headwires” Xao, electronics tech, announces to the room “I have partial access. Got a ghost of code with the info for the Corridor D cameras.”
Jason Karnor, weapons and tactics specialist, asks “Ghost? What from.”
“Uh. Either a systems check…or remote access.”
“SH*T!” yells Devin Jakrell, leader of squad 17. He activates his comm. “Jeffries! Need an urgent sitrep!”
“Easy Jak,” crackles the voice in his ear. “We are right on time, entering Corridor D.”
Jakrell sees Jeffries appear on the monitor. Squad 11 has point.
“Ok Jeffries. Not confirmed, but you may have been buzzed by Security.”
“Impossible. This route is secure, none of the other tech-teams reports any alarm activity. This whole side of the base is supposed to be dead during dust-storm season.”
“Yeah I got the same brief you did. Just giving you what I have.”
“Yeah roger, I’ll keep my eyes open. Hmmm.”
“Something…isn’t quite right about this Corridor. Section seams look a little…big.”
“Wires! Got a camera near a seam? I need focus on the roof.”
“One second Jak…ok, there.”
Jakrell looks hard at the monitor for a few seconds. His expression changes from one of caution to one of fear.
“Jeffries! Those seams are blast doors.”
“Blast doors? The specs didn’t say anything…”
“The Fists put them in! It’s a goddamn trap!”
On the monitor you can actually see squad leader Jeffries suddenly understand. His posture changes. You can see him draw breath to order the pull-back.
He turns his head.
Squad leader Timsar Jeffries explodes in a shower of gore as the blast door comes down like an eyeblink.
Jakrell switches to emergency broadcast.
“Squads 11 and 23 are caught in a blast-door trap at Corridor D. Blast the side passage to get around the blast door, it’s your only chance.”
Suddenly, the emergency channel is crowded with shouts of confusion and fear.
The lights and monitors in the auxillary security room go dead.
“Jason, check the corridor. I think they’ve cut the power to this whole section of the base.”
Jakrell hears Duval ordering a general pull back. “…all access to Corridor D is cut off. We cannot reach you. All teams, get to rendevous Charlie ASAP.”
“You heard the man. Move it wires. Jason, we are pulling back.”
“But what about Jeffries’ team?”
Jakrell finally realizes what has been gnawing at his head since the blast doors came down. Lisa is in that mess somewhere. And she probably got to see her brother, Tim Jeffries, die.
“I…we’ll…we can’t help them until we know what the hell is going on. The sooner we get to R-Charlie, the sooner we can get back in and pull them out.”
Wires and Karnor aren’t happy, but they know Jak is right.
“Rgr boss…pulling out.”
Jeream “Vagrant-” Dac: History
The squad pours into the undefended room, a small back entry into the base complex. The leader, Reider, grins beneath his face mask. The Fists wouldn’t know what hit them. Moving into the next room, a scene of carnage greets them. The decompression has caught two civilian personnel, the speed causing their bodies to distort in a grotesque manner.
“Come on, kids. You’ve seen worse”. Reider steps over the body, giving it a swift kick to push it out of the way. The squad follows, combat training and experience overriding any human compassion. A shrill beep escapes the corpse, weak in the near vacuum, and Reider freezes, realizing his mistake.
“Take COVER!” they hit the sides of the room as the noise intensifies. The explosion hits, and the room turns white.
Jeream Dac, corporal, clears his head and looks around. The room is covered with blood. Reider’s torso is stuck against the opposite wall, his face a gruesome death mask. Renar Jace’s face is a bloody mess, eyes gouged out by shrapnel. Dac touches his own face, feeling the warm stickiness of blood dripping from a long cut across his cheek. Then he notices, the sound is still there…
Returning to reality, he swats at his datapad to silence the alarm and pushes the sheets away from his body. His bleary eyes seek out the pad, and he picks it up, finding the message that caused the tone. His eyes widen slightly as the enormity of the message confronts him; after only one third of the required flight hours, he was to be granted an Intensity class fighter, and accepted proper into the Commonwealth’s combat forces.
Dac’s fingers go to his face, tracing the long scar down from just the right of his eyes, across his cheek, under his jawline, stopping just short of his throat. This was the story of his piloting career. Accepted into the STCC’s training program despite psychiatric reports classifying him as unfit to fly, the report on his brutal assault of a pilot who made a crack about the 3rd Battalion creatively misfiled, a dozen other smaller incidents. In peacetime, his record would not have allowed him within ten meters of a spacecraft, let alone allow him to fly one. Now, placed into a fighter before his allotted time, because he showed the native talent required to fly it well. The STCC was desperate for combat pilots to fight off the other factions as they increasingly preyed upon Solrain cargo and beacons.
He gets out of bed and dresses, following orders to head straight to the hangar to pick up his allotted ship. As he enters Solrain Core’s main hangar, he is once again amazed by the sheer scale of the Commonwealth’s drive towards space. Ships of all sizes are to be seen, some on racks in storage, some being repaired, and some being loaded into the launch tubes. As his gaze traverses further, he sees it. An Intensity fighter, shining new, a suited man standing by it with an impatient look on his face. Dac jumps onto a passing travel pad and heads towards the fighter. As he dismounts, the man walks up to him.
“Good morning. I am Kyle Doren, and it is my duty to inform you that you have been selected…”. Dac stares through the man as the speech continues.
Doren glares. “Are you listening to me?” Dac glances at the man, and takes in the petulant irritation on his face. Shrugging briefly, he leaps up onto the fighter, and gets into the cockpit. The controls are familiar from the simulators, and he immediately feels at home. Hitting an order to load the ship into a launch tube, he ignores the angry protest from below.
As the ship launches, Dac runs the brief pilot setup, looking through the equipment he has loaded, and entering his callsign ‘vagrant-‘. A constant, self torturing reminder of why he is here, of his past disgrace. Finally, he brings up his message box, and notes something in the inbox from one Devin Jakrell. Loading it up, he reads through…and finally allows a short, faint smile to cross his features.
* * * * * *
The intensity screams through the pack, guns spitting the pilot’s venom.
“Leader, I’ve picked up a tail. No, two. Three.”
Dac grimaces. The early fights against Brotherhood had gone relatively smoothly, but the Quantar squad had swiftly pulled large numbers in from their other duties. With Virescere and TSAS fighting on their side, things were looking grim. He hits nearest target, and sees a Typhoon flashing on him. Cutting through the ship, he twists the stick wildly, pulling the Intensity through moves it was surely never designed for. Taking a look at his HUD, he sees his shields dropping to dangerous levels, but he’s losing them.
“Vagrant, help coming your way” he sees an Intensity hit one of the phoons behind him, and turns to assist. Their combined firepower takes the ship down, and he sees the message flash up “Pilot Tesrend killed by BAM”. The other pursuing ships have lost both ‘tensies in the confusion.
“Thanks. I owe you one. Time to get out of here.”
“I’m out of flashes. They’re gonna catch me; you’d better head out now.” Dac targets BAM’s ship, and notes the heavy armour damage it has taken. They are the only two Solrain ships left in sector. Sighing, he turns and stares at one of the Quantar ships. Mind drifting, he thinks back. How could they possibly support the actions of their terrorist fellow Quantar? Brotherhood was supposed to be a moderate group, yet they signaled their attack without even thought. Was it something deeper? Was it a government sanctioned operation? An event planned at a high level? The faces of the dead, the betrayed, pass in front of him. Reider. Jace. Weis. Kerry. Drak. The vision switches. The gruesome heads of his battalion-mates, severed and disfigured. So many dead. His lasers flash into the Quantar vessel. it hits low armour..just a couple more shots…
An explosion. The pod jerks him away from the broken Intensity, and consciousness fails.
A blinding light shines in his eyes as they cautiously open.
“Is he awake?” Devin Jakrell is standing by a frowning med tech.
“Yes…but that was an extremely rough pod ride. I’d suggest leaving him to recover for a while”
“I’ll take that under advisement.” Jakrell motions the med tech away. If looks could kill…
“Dac. I want to know what the hell is wrong with you.”
“Nothing. I just got shot down. I was out of flashfires, and there were too many of them to escape. Sir.”
“Your ship had a flash left at time of destruction, unless black boxes have suddenly started lying. We do not have spare equipment or ships to waste, if you will note the contents of Wake station. This is, however, not my main concern.” With a stony look on his face, Jakrell pulls a sound recorder out of his pocket, and hits play. A scream of complete animal loss of control emits from the device; a sound of pure, unrestrained hatred.
“Apparently, you broadcast this over public comms just before you podded. An onlooker recorded it and sent it to me. Wanted to know when the 3rd Battalion started recruiting mad dogs.”
Dac stares at the recorder, expressionless
“Dac, we all have our bad memories. Dreams. Nightmares. We all carry with us a heavy burden, but I will not allow that to interfere with our actions as a professional squad. Understood?”
Dac grits his teeth. “Sir.”
“You’re relieved of duty for 24 hours. I suggest you go find someone to talk about this with. If I ever hear of something like this happening again, you will have a world of more immediate problems to deal with.” Jakrell spins on his heel, and marches out. Dac’s glazed over eyes come to rest on his retreating figure. Jakrell had seen the gruesome tape of his beheaded comrades, but he hadn’t had to see his entire squad wiped out by a booby trap. A whisper escapes his lips.
“You don’t really understand. None of you do.”
* * * * * *
Jeream Dac slowly checks himself over. Suit integrity was shot. The emergency magnetic containment field had activated, and was holding a layer of air close to his skin to prevent depressurization. His foot is at an angle a healthy leg could never achieve, right arm severely weekend. Probably hit a nerve as he fell. His left hand traces again the cut down his cheek. Blood drips down, with a disturbing slowness caused by the moon’s low gravity.
A man enters the room. Slight build, an emergency respirator on his face, and a heavy blaster pistol in hand. Dac dives for his gun, ignoring the squeal of protest from his damaged leg. A heavy booted foot catches him in flight, throwing him across the room. As Dac slams against the wall, the man fires a bolt into each arm, and brings his foot down on Dacs uninjured leg. Emitting a scream of pain barely audible in the rarified atmosphere, Dac looks up and knows his fate is sealed. The man is talking into his transmitter, but Dac hears nothing. Radio receive must be down. His aggressor removes his transmitter, revealing a sadistically smiling face. He thrusts his face forward, intruding on Dac’s containment field.
“I said, it looks like something has started my work for me. How…convenient. Hamalzah does indeed work in mysterious ways.” A finger traces roughly across Dac’s cheek wound, nail tearing at its edge. Dac resists the urge to cry out, his brain trying desperately to reassert control over his useless limbs. The Fist has retrieved a long, wickedly shaped knife from a belt holder, and runs it again across the cut. The knife extends the wound, pulling down across his jawbone, heading slowly but inexorably towards the throat. Dac holds his gaze, refusing to give his murderer that ultimate of satisfactions; the look of pure fear in his victim’s eyes.
A trio of bolts emerges from the doorway, and the Fist is thrown sideways, knife clattering to the ground…
His eyes flicked open.
“God damn it!”
“You were screaming..” Dac looked up, and saw the worried face of a short female med-tech. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” He gave the med-tech a stony look, and climbed out of bed, swiftly dressing in the supplied jumpsuit. “I’ll be checking out now.”
“But you need…”
* * * * * *
As he walked away from the medbay, Jeream Dac noticed that his stomach was cramping. Probably lack of food, he decided. He approached the canteen, and walked in. Grabbing a tray full of food, he glanced across the hall and saw some members of the 3rd Battalion. He didn’t really have any desire to socialize, but equally knew that they’d probably force him to whether he wanted to or not. He slipped his tray onto the table, and noted its occupants. Jason Karnor, Faroh, headwires. He probably ought to get around to asking the latter two what their real names were sometime. Wordlessly, he bit into a lump of some nameless meat.
“Uh..hi.” That was Faroh. Dac looked up and examined her dispassionately. She seemed curious.
“Hi.” he arranged another forkful on the plate.
“So,” said Wires jovially. “I hear you totally cracked up yesterday. That scream was some f**ked up sh*t, man.” Dac looked up in disbelief into the grinning face. His hand shot up, grabbing headwires by the throat, bringing him nose to nose with his own head.
“You’re a funny man, headwires.” Dac’s eyes bored straight into the other pilot’s, his voice spitting venom. “I know you and the rest of the 3rd Battalion got to see the video of our comrades, and I’m very sorry for the trauma it may have caused you. However, until you’ve seen your entire squad slaughtered in front of you, stared death in the face as it slowly slits your throat, I’d suggest you don’t know a thing about real pain, real fear. Your illustrious leader seems to suffer greatly from the notion that he carries a millstone around his neck. Be thankful for the little true pain you experienced in that incident.” He threw headwires back into his seat, the choked pilot gasping for breath.
Jason Karnor spoke, his mild voice cutting through the built up tension. “Devin Jakrell’s fiancée was a med-tech in squad 23, one of the initial storming groups.” He fell silent, and brought his attention back to his food.
Dac’s face softened. The death of a loved one during that terrible battle? The pain must have been immense. His voice, however, was hard as ever. “Only a fool makes relationships in the military.” His food half finished, the complaints from his stomach seemed sated. As he made to leave, he noticed Devin Jakrell walking over to the table. He pulled off a precise military salute. “Sir. You have my apologies for my conduct. I will be ready to fly again tomorrow. Until then, if I’m needed, I will be at the simulators”. Without waiting for a reply, he retreated from the canteen.
headwires had recovered his breath, and was massaging his neck. “Man, that guy’s the life and soul of the party. What’s his story?”
“He will tell you, if he wishes. Up to that time, it’s none of your business, Wires.” Jakrell gazed thoughtfully after Dac. “Let’s just say that he’s hopefully working through his issues. At least he’s started talking.”
* * * * * *
“Switch target – SingleShot!”
With a chorus of synthesized acknowledgements, the pack of Solrain ships hits the Typhoon as it approaches them. The timing is perfect, and the Quantar ship explodes in an instant. Jeream Dac frowns; one down, but many to go. The pack of 5 Invader class medium fighters is heavily outmatched by their eight remaining Quantar adversaries. The Quantar formation splits in half, the engine trails of Typhoons and Tornadoes making strangely beautiful patterns as they hit their AB. Dac takes a circuitous approach to check their current target.
“Confirmed – a group of four is on me. One bomber, 3 phoons. I-One, you take the rest of the group. I’ll try to keep this lot busy long enough for you to take the remainder down.” Dac frowns; is this a new tactic, or a foolish one? He hits the AB, getting a near 4k advantage over his opponents, heading out away from the rest of the group. A phoon hits a flash. Perfect. He flashes away, taking the enemy ships deeper. One of the ‘phoons peels off, heading back to his embattled comrades.
“I-One, be advised you have one more Typhoon incoming. What’s your status?”
“Roger that, Leader. We have 3 ships killed, 1 running. I-Two and I-Three are repairing and refueling, I-Four is down.”
“Understood. Head to my position.”
“Can’t see you, Leader. We will search for gunfire.”
His flashfire runs out, but now he and the chasing Typhoon have a 10k lead over their opponents. Dac turns and hits another flash, circling the Typhoon at high speed. Lasers flash out, and the Typhoon swiftly hits armour, its ions desperately seeking a mark-
“Leader, we have you. Help is on the way.”
– and it is running, last flashfire burning out. Dac allows himself a fleeting smile. The solrain ship designers had done well; the ‘Vader was designed with shape and material coating to fool targeting computers, and his ship had barely suffered a hit. Flicking through his radar list, he notes the Quantar group right on his tail. Lasers and ions lash against his shields. Jerking the stick to head back to the friendly group, he hits the transmit button.
“I-One, you have a ‘phoon heading back for you. It’s out of flashes. Take it.”
“My pleasure, Leader. We’ll hit it as it passes, but hold our course for you.”
“Acknowledged.” Shields fell, and a shot landed on the Invader’s miniscule armour. A ship lights up in the distance – must be that Typhoon eating it. Dac slams the flashfire key. Just 8k to help…come on…
“The bomber is out 3 FFs. The phoon has two le-”
A passing hit lands, and the pod activates. The simulator goes dark briefly, and Dac sighs, laying his head back on the rest. Light swiftly enters as the canopy rises, and Dac sees headwires’ face poking in. Looking to make amends?
“Yeah. Died with my back to the enemy. I’m a regular hero.”
A little flash of irritation crosses headwires’ face. “Jeream, this isn’t ground assault any more. It’s rare for someone to really die. There’s only resources you make them lose, and the projection there says your 5 vaders smoked 8 ships and heavily damaged one for the loss of two. Like it or not, that was a huge victory.”
A ghost of a smile plays on Dac’s lips. “Yeah, I guess. I’ll have to work on the SingleShot and Tesrend AIs for the next round, though. There’s no way SingleShot would have bought it that quickly in reality.”
“You coded the AIs?”
“Yeah…they’re not perfect yet though. I do have I-One through Five working, though, and they seem to have a good match to each 3rd Battalion pilot’s flight ability and style.”
headwires consults the list Dac has pinned on the side of the simulator. “They seemed very accurate. Wait! hey..I’m I-Four? The guy who bought it right at the beginning?”
A little genuine mirth finally crosses Dac’s face. “Yeah, as I said, they seem very accurate.”
The pair walk out of the simulator complex, headwires clearly used to his comrades ripping in to him. “So, what’s your story? What did you do after…the battle, before you came here?”
Dac had no idea why he was talking to the man who had so gravely insulted him earlier. “I was heavily injured. Broken legs, blaster bolt in each arm. Despite our dishonorable discharge, the Commonwealth was kind enough” Dac spits out, “to treat me enough that I could move acceptably again. The rest of my treatment I had to pay for, leaving me heavily in debt. That’s why I still have this.” He points at the scar. “I managed to convince my creditors that enough money was to be made in space to support their needs.”
Headwires whistles. So the new guy really is capable of stringing more than a couple of sentences together. “So, why did you come here?”
Only a fool makes relationships in the military. No family, no partner, his best, only friends vaporized in an instant. A lifetime to be spent paying off debts he should never have had to accrue in a dirtside job with no prospects, constantly reliving a soul-destroying past or gazing forwards into a shattered future. No reason to live. No one to protect. Who would miss him if the dangers of space claimed him? Face reddening, he wheels around to face the other pilot. “Poke your nose into someone else’s business. If you people really do have your own problems, you have no need to pry into mine.”
Dac marches away, leaving headwires standing still in the corridor.