: “ Vikings go to Valhalla ( but where do pirates go? ) ”


Shuttle Odessa VII
The Roche System, Tr
k Hhra Quadrant, TrkPahn Sector
JUL 14 2661/2661.195; 2255 Hours (CST)

Captain Eldon Vandermann sat silent in the co-pilots seat of the lifeboat shuttle, solemnly contemplating the events from what had been the darkest day he could ever fear to live through.

"I had no alternative," he quietly said to himself. "There was nothing I could have done."

"Yes there was," the voice in Vandermann
s head argued reprimandingly. It sounded uncannily like his father, as authoritative as it had when he had been a child before him. Yet his father was dead, along with the rest of his family and everyone he had ever cared for. "There was, and you know it. But it was easier to just run away, wasnt it? Wasnt it?"

The captain goes down with his ship. That was the old adage, wasn
t it?

And yet there was the Bengal-class TCS Odessa, slowly getting smaller as his shuttle continued away from the scene at maximum velocity, a spinning hulk of lifeless, shattered machinery riding the tide of its own destruction. Dead imagery seen through dead eyes. It had been his carrier, the culmination of a lifetime of strife, a lifetime that had been going nowhere for so painfully long. Its loyal crew had come to respect him, trust him implicitly, and follow his orders without question or doubt.

His ship, his crew, himself... Vandermann had failed them all.

He hadn
t even the decency to die with them. He had escaped his ship, his fate, and would live whatever was left of his life in quiet shame.

"There was nothing I could have done..."

re fooling yourself, Eldon," the voice reverberated in his mind again. "Youve failed. Theres no going back for you. Ever."

The pilot, a young Ensign Davidsen, spared a look at Vandermann, finding the silver-haired captain to be staring blankly out the viewports. He knew it wasn
t the Kilrathi attackers the man was worrying about -- if the Cats had wanted to destroy their shuttle, too, they would have already done so. Davidsen knew better than to try and get the man talking, despite his concern.

s not the end, Captain." It was a new voice, the voice of the ensign beside him, "It doesnt have to be."

Vandermann didn
t respond, or otherwise make any motion to indicate an acknowledgement. Lost in sorrow and self-pity, he heard the Ensigns words but did not agree.

The other voice... the one in his head... that voice spoke the truth.

t listen to that boy, Eldon," the voice came back. "He hasnt lived your life of failure. Blood is on your hands. Blood and disgrace."

The voice was right. It had to be. He had...

Vandermann turned, so abruptly that Ensign Davidsen jumped in his seat.

"No..." Eldon seethed, "No, damn me..."

Ensign Davidsen recoiled a bit, suddenly seeming afraid of Vandermann. "S-sir... maybe you should go in the back and get some rest. I
ve got things here and—"

"No, Ensign," Captain Vandermann snapped through gritted teeth. "No more resting. Not ever."

Davidsen nodded, though he clearly didn
t take Vandermanns meaning. "Yessir." The young man quickly started running a diagnostic to make himself appear busy.

People had died under Vandermann
s command. Many people. For their sake, he would live the rest of his life for them. Every commendation he would receive, every medal they would pin on him, every promotion they would give him... every achievement would bring him one step closer to redemption.

It was the only way.

It would be many years before Captain Vandermann would hear the voice again.



TCS Valley Forge; Recreation/Fitness Chamber
Holding position
The Canewdon System, Deneb Quadrant, Epsilon Sector
JAN 6 2681/2681.006; 0820 Hours (CST)

The lights dimmed slightly on the two lieutenants facing each other on the training mat of the ovular, mirrored chamber. After tying her brunette hair back, Amy St. Germain held her pose, brandishing her set of slim Japanese daisho. The more experienced Erin Ishii held her own fighting stance, raising her pair of identical blades in turn.

As they did in every session, the two officers measured each other up as enemies. It betrayed the fact that, in truth, they were the best of friends. The two twenty-five year-olds had gone through a year of the TCN Space Force Academy together on Hilthros before realizing they wanted to be officers, not pilots, then enrolled and completed their time in the TCSA Fleet Academy in Houston, Texas before having the luck of landing their first assignment together. The Concordia-class Valley Forge of the Third Fleet was about the best posting they could have hoped for.

"Ready, Erin?"

Erin answered her opponent by pressing the "engage" button on her safety belt with the hilt of one of her swords. "Are you?"

Amy hit her own, then advanced on her. "Our new captain comes aboard today, y

Erin made the first swing, testing Amy
s reflexes right from the start. "Thats right," she responded, unenthusiastic about the topic. "Captain Vandermann is expected around 0900. Cant wait."

Amy swept Erin
s next attack away with her katana, then made a lunge with her wakizashi that Erin deftly avoided. "I hate to admit it, but Im really going to miss ol Captain Arnold."

Erin rolled her eyes. In her mind, Commodore Geoffory Arnold
s promotion and transfer off the Forge to become XO of the Third Fleet under Admiral Rayak had been the best thing to happen all year. "Youll get over it. He was an asshole."

"Not an asshole, Erin, just..." Amy had barely enough time to speak this time, parrying two swings from Erin, "... just misunderstood." Amy utilized both swords, then riposting with a thrust that skimmed across the invisible, inch-thick electromagnetic body shielding generated by their belts near her shoulder. "So.. this new captain-type we got coming our way... is he a looker?"

Erin shook her hair out of her face, blocking an ambitious series of strikes and lunges by Amy and having to step back a few feet. "Sure, if you go for the, uh, older crowd."

Amy chuckled, just barely parrying in time to avoid a katana slash to the chest. "I
ll try anything... once."

"Yeah, girl, I kinda figured that one out." Erin grunted knowingly, parrying a swing from Amy
s katana with her wakizashi. Amy had been a self-proclaimed nymphomaniac since Erin had known her as the bouncing-off-the-walls teenager she had been when they met. It was typical of her to hit on anyone that lived up to her less-than-critical standards, more often than not to great success, though at no point that Erin knew of did was she ever wanting any kind of meaningful relationship. At one awkward point Amy had even gone after Erin, something neither of them liked to talk about. Through it all, Erin had come to get the idea that her friend had a shitty childhood, probably having been either burned by parents or too many deadbeat boyfriends early on.

"So what
s his story?"

"Oh, this guy has had quite a life. Most of what I
ve heard is word of mouth, but he spent a lot of time on the front lines during the Kilrathi War. Then he lost a carrier somewhere along the line. He quit Confed, wasnt seen for two years, then turned up in the Border Worlds and the Landreich Republic."

"Landreich?" The hell hole on the outer marches between the Union of Border Worlds in which they presently patrolled and the Kilrathi Assembly of Clans wasn
t very high on Amys list of places to spend shore leave. "Oh, lovely."

"Well, he put some time in the Free Republic of Landreich Navy in the years after the war. Heard he got to know one of that Kilrathi heir Murragh
s Cadre members. Probably knows all about the Cats, for what thats worth."

"And now he
s back in Confed?"

"After he helped clean up the mess in the aftermath of the whole Black Lance fiasco, yeah. Now we got him. My guess is it has more than a little to do with our duty of patrolling the Border Worlds. Vandermann has plenty of experience there, having served in Landreich."

Amy went at Erin with another series of tactful swings, again forcing her opponent back and putting her entirely on the defensive. "You know, Erin," she spoke between attacks, "you really must be rusty or something. Girl, you suck."

At that point, without warning, the battle completely turned around. Erin, either getting her second wind or simply not holding back anymore, put herself on the offensive, deflecting Amy
s assaults with both swords with such force that Amy was now the one backing away. A twirl of Erins wakizashi and Amys katana was sent clattering to the floor. A high chop and a side kick to Amys midsection dropped Erins opponent.

Erin stood over her fallen opponent, raising one sword to Amy
s face before sheathing them both. The lights came back to normal brightness. "Game over."

"Yeah, yeah." Amy accepted Erin
s outstretched hand, getting back to her feet. Their sword sparring sessions seldom exceeded anything other than opportunities to work out stress, though there had been intense instances when it had become personal. Amy then muttered, brushing herself off with a demented smile, "Touché... bitch."

Erin cracked a grin. "Yeah, love you, too. C
mon, we better get ready for the welcome wagon."


TCS Valley Forge; Wardroom
0835 Hours (CST)

The door at the back of the officer
s lounge, emblazoned with the "CV-53" service number of the Valley Forge, slid open. Ensign Jediah "Jed" Wright sauntered in, having to push his way past a group of ensigns near the entrance to find his way to his friend and crewmate sitting at the bar, Ensign Matt Turner.

"Heya, Matt," he greeted, hopping on the empty stool beside his friend. He raised his hand at the bartender, who soon had his attention. "Hell
s Kitchen, please."

Matt downed half his drink in one gulp, then looked to Jed. "What
s up, Jed?

Jed was all smiles. "Guess whose cabin I was sleeping in last night, man."

How many times had he heard that when they were in the Academy... "I dunno... but you
re probably going to tell me anyway."

"Lieutenant St. Germain
s." Jed leaned back, making a contented scene of stretching back in his stool.

Matt wasn
t impressed. "Amy? Christ, Jed, I thought you had taste. Not to sound like an asshole, but... shes a natural born slut."

Jed fidgeted as he received his drink from the bartender, obviously not thinking Matt would take it that way. "C
mon, Matt, you dont know her like I do."

"I don
t need to fuck her to know to stay the hell away from her." Jeds glow of pride dissolved with every one of Matts words. "I hope youre not looking for anything serious with her, cause Ill tell you right now youre not going to get anything like that from Amy."

"Sounds like you
ve got inside knowledge, pally. Amy turn you down cold one night?"

"No," Jed replied, straight-faced at the notion. "But do you really think you
re the only guy—or girl—on this ship shes been doing the horizontal mambo with?"

"So she
s got experience." It didnt seem to bother Jed. "But who said anything about anybody looking for serious relationships?" he chimed. "Findem, fuckem, forg—"

"Whatever, man. Just remember you have work with her." Matt sighed. "And stop thinking with your goddamned dick. We
ve got a job to do and I for one want to do it right."

Jed sighed, shaking his head. "Now don
t even go giving me some professional/fraternization with fellow crew speech... dont think I havent seen the way youve been eyeing little Ms. Erin Ishii."

"Lieutenant Ishii?" Matt couldn
t hold back the blush. "Dont even go there."

"Oh, that
s right." Jed gave a chuckle. "Youre still holding out for that fiancée of yours on Earth, isnt that right? Isnt that just chivalrous... When are you going to snap out of it, Matt? Live a little, for chrissakes."

Matt sipped his drink, not responding. Live a little... That was why he had joined Confed. Sure, he
d fallen for all the Academy propaganda, but he truly had joined to live life to its fullest; to prove himself.

"All right," Jed said, hoping to salvage the conversation. "New subject."

"You ever hear from that older brother of yours in the Space Force?" Matt inquired. "What was his name... Dirk...?"

Jed nodded. "He hasn
t talked much since he earned some kind of warrior title from the Kilrathi." Jed polished off his drink in a single shot. "Hes got his life; Ive got mine. We were never close."

"Hmph." Matt finished his drink at about the same time. He pushed his empty glass down the counter to the bored-looking bartender. "You ever wonder why we
re here, Jed?"

s that?"

"You know. Here... the Forge... the Border Worlds..."

"The Forge is a good ship. So what if we
re babysitting the Border Worlds for right now? Theres no cutting corners in real life, Matt. Therell be another war. There always is. Well see our fair share of action. And then, hey, someday you and Ill be admirals or space marshals or something riding our megacarriers out there—well look back on these days and smile."

Matt let out a long sigh, then stood up from his stool and rebuttoned the top of his uniform. "We better get our asses to the bridge. Vandermann
s shuttle has probably already docked and—"

"And you want to do everything you can to make a good first impression on the Captain?" Jed cut him off. "Uh-huh, right. You just want to eye Lieutenant Ishii some more, dontcha? Eh?"

Matt started for the lift, leaving Jed to his meager victory. He ordered another drink.


TCS Valley Forge; Bridge
0919 Hours (CST)

Under the hush chatter of the bridge crew and rhythmic pulse of the engines, the lift doors hissed open. Captain Eldon Vandermann stepped onto the bridge, walking uniformly out with his arms behind his back beside Lt. Commander Nate Schaefer of tactical ops, who had been sent to meet the Captain at his shuttle.

"Captain on the bridge," Lt. Commander Schaefer spoke. Those on the bridge not already standing promptly stood, faced the Captain, and held a salute.

"As you were," Captain Vandermann spoke, and the salutes dropped.

"Captain Vandermann," Colonel Natasha Trebek, the icy wing commander of the carrier, addressed him with another salute, this one brief. "Welcome aboard the Valley Forge."

"Thank you. Glad to be here." The voice was monotone, without any discernible feeling. The Captain examined his bridge crew, running a careful gaze over every face. "But I
m afraid the introductions will have to wait. I come with orders given in response to a nearby situation that requires our attention."

"A... situation?" Colonel Trebek asked curiously.

Vandermann nodded once. "That
s right. Something of a small pirate situation at Bentley Station at Nav 4 has arisen... CIS is not ruling out the possibility that we could be dealing with another group of Kilrathi pirates like the ‘Demons Eye Pack the Midway fought at Valgard late last year, if not a resurgence of the same group. Nothing serious, I should imagine, but a good opportunity to flex our proverbial muscles. Outside of the systems local militia were the closest and most able vessel available."

"Bentley Station?" Ensign Turner from navigation inquired. "Isn
t that some kind of privateer haven?" Vandermann narrowed his eyes at the boy, glowering. Turner quickly regretted it. "Sorry, sir."

"Is our destination going to be a problem, Ensign?"

"N-no," Turner said. "Not at all, sir."

Across the bridge, at his Nav console, Ensign Wright appeared as if he also had something to ask, but then thought better of it.

"Good." Vandermann stiffened his composure. "I want... no," Vandermann broke off, choosing his words more carefully. "I expect nothing but the best of you in the coming engagement. Anything less will not be tolerated—do not test me." He sighed, then added, "Vigilance is the Warrior
s salvation; inattention is the Warriors most dangerous foe."

Ensign Wright turned to Ensign Turner, whispering, "I
ve heard that shit before... hes quoting one of the goddamned Cat codices..."

"Shhh," Turner quickly quieted Wright, not looking to invoke the Captain
s wrath.

Vandermann turned sharply to the wing commander. "Colonel Trebek, if you
ll accompany me to the briefing room...?"

With the exit of Vandermann and the wing commander, the bridge crew was left to begin setting a course for Nav 4.

Walking over to her defense console, Lieutenant St. Germain nudged Lieutenant Ishii. "Great guy, huh?" she asked. "Right down to business he is."

"You know," Erin groaned, shaking her head, "I think I may just come to miss Commodore Arnold yet."


TCS Valley Forge; Captains Cabin
0940 Hours (CST)

Eldon Vandermann looked around the new room which he would now call home. It was a standard Confee-looking captain
s cabin, a rather large bed (to have room for all the people you slept with to get here...), a desk with a standard computer loadout, and a small bar/kitchen area, where personal food and drink could be stowed, instead of keeping it all in the ships kitchen. One thing he did really enjoy about his new home was the view, and what a view it was. Out the port side of the ship he gazed into the darkness that was space. He had been here most of his life, as he never was one for being dryfoot—he enjoyed the responsibilities of commanding a ship, and now he was in command of an entire battle group, 1 carrier, and 5 escorts. Thinking of that reminded him that he still hadnt contacted any of the captains of his escorts to inform them of the coming operation. Pirates, he had been one once, long before he had joined the Navy. He had loved it—the thrills, the chances, and of course the big scores. He had been in the best pirate clan in the Landreich, The Guild. He had been an old man by the time he had enrolled with them after the war, but he hadnt been there just to be a pirate, a good friend of his in the Landreich government and told him to go there, and once Max Kruger tells you to do something, by god you better do it and do it fast, otherwise you might be seeing his famous temper flare up right in front of you.

"Captain, there is a Priority 2 Message coming in from Torgo, sir," the comm officer from the bridge whistled out as the holoscreen burst to life.

"Thank you, Lt.," Eldon replied, still not having learned all the names of his command crew and, to be honest, wasn
t even sure if her rank was that of Lt.—he had been across the room distractedly looking out a viewport, and it seemed the logical choice. It must have been the right one, because seconds later the message flashed across the screen...

TO : Captain Eldon Vandermann, Commander TCS Valley Forge Battle Group

FROM : Admiral Victor Rayak, Commander Third Fleet, Torgo System, Epsilon Sector

Priority 2 Message
Decoding Text...

Decoding Complete. Would you like to proceed? (Y/N)

Text as follows...

You have already received your intro briefing on the pirate situation, but this is a more thorough one in the attached documents. Sorry to disturb you, Vandermann, especially on your first day on your new home. She
s quite a ship with an excellent crew... and Im afraid you are going to need them now more than ever. You have been briefed on your upcoming operation to suppress pirate activities in Canewdon, but you must be thinking if Im sending you mail, it must be something serious. The pirates you are going to encounter are some of your old friends. The Guild has acquired another leader since Zach Banfield, and another transport convert. Its a shabby ship, holds maybe 16 fighters, but weve learned that these arent your standard Guild pilots. They are their elite pilots, some are from before the major changes in The Guild after that incident out in the Landreich and at Baka Kar. So, what I want you to do is... quite frankly, smash them. They have been harassing the vital East-West Transport convoys running through Canewdon. Ive sent separate messages to your escorts, detailing their assignments. I want this ship captured, not destroyed, as there might be something of dire importance on it. If there is, I want it.

Admiral Rayak, CO Third Fleet

Eldon looked away from the holoscreen.

So The Guild had moved to the UBW. Pretty far off from the shipping lanes of the Landreich, and Max Kruger
s new hatred for them. The message had attached a file detailing possible search patterns for finding the pirate vessel. Eldon reached over and touched the comm button, linking him to the bridge.

"Lieutenant, get the wing commander, the other ships captains, and the comm staff into the conference room in one hour. Tell them it
s top priority."

"Aye, aye, sir!" Lt. St. Germain responded. The charisma of youth. He looked back to his viewport and thought about the coming conference and coming fight...


TCS Valley Forge; Conference Room
1015 Hours (CST)

Captain Vandermann watched on as Colonel Trebek laid out the search patterns provided via relay by Admiral Rayak and Commodore Arnold.

"As you can see, the Admiral has us doing standard fan searches through this asteroid field, as it borders the East-West Transport Corporation
s shipping lanes. The closest jump point is here, to the Ayers System." Colonel Trebek laserpointed to space on the map. "As per Captains orders Ive got the Tigersharks prepping for launch as we speak and will be in the air within the hour. They will fly in groups of three, all the patrols marked on this navmap." The Wing Commander paused as she changed over to another squadrons assignment. "Here is the close-in patrol ring to be done by this Panther squadron—they are going to help escort our big brothers out to blockade points here, here, and here." She pointed at a spot near the asteroid field, one at the jump point and another seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

"Um... why to the third point?" Lt. St. Germain asked, who ran the communications rig on the Forge.

"Well you see..."

t worry about it, St. Germain, just worry about your own job," Vandermann cut in, completely freezing the Colonel in her tracks and sparing her the explanation. The WC did not look happy. The Captain had been on board only a few hours and was already reminding him of another captain he had long ago, one who liked to keep the whole story to himself and to hell with his crew.

"All right people, that
s all for this briefing, separate squadron and department briefings will begin in twenty-five minutes, so read up on the info Rayak sent along. Dismissed!"

After finishing the crowd dispersed to their own cliques and left the room. Eldon stood up and nodded as his crew left, then once the last one was gone slumped back into his chair. It had been a long time since he had actually commanded a ship.

His thoughts slipped back to the Odessa, his first carrier, and what he thought would be his last carrier, the Kilrathi raiding fleet that had bagged him had laid a trap for his ship and it
s battle group right inside the jump point into Roche. Two Ralathas and an old Fralthi had gotten him by surprise, and destroyed his carrier and the two accompanying destroyers. Eldon had played into an old Kilrathi trap and he hadnt been proud of it. It wasnt until 2670 that he was finally able to forgive himself for the days events even partially. Then, while working for the Landreich, he had made a friend he would not soon forget, Catharx nar Vukar Tag, a member of the heir to the throne Murraghs Cadre from the KIS Karga. Catharx had been on the Fralthi that had finally destroyed his ship in 2661, but what he learned from Catharx was that several of his pilots, after seeing their ship destroyed, kamikazeed his ship and damaged it so badly that it had to be scuttled. That was why the Kilrathi had not followed up and destroyed all the escape pods. So the chase to destroy the Kilrathi raid fleet had not been a total failure, and Catharx soon became a close friend to Eldon.

They shared much during the refitting of the KIS Karga—no, now the FRLS Mjollnir. An amazing accomplishment she had been, turning a Kilrathi supercarrier into a ship flying under the Landreich colors. He had learned much about the Kilrathi during those years, and still kept in contact with Catharx, until a week ago, when their ongoing messages suddenly came to a halt. Eldon had tried to reach him since then, but all he got back where messages speaking of a connection problem. This worried him, in the decade he had know Catharx, never once had they broken off communication for more then 4 or 5 days, and now 8 days had gone by. His thoughts were disrupted when an ensign entered the room bearing a new holo E-mail message from Commander Tailor, captain of the TCS Hood.

TO : Captain Eldon Vandermann, Commander TCS Valley Forge Battle Group

FROM : Commander Elliot Tailor, CO TCS Hood

SUBJ : Current operation strategy

After reading over Rayak
s briefing I have become concerned in the Admirals involvement in what, for all intents and purposes, is just a simple pirate suppression mission. Something is going on here, Eldon, and I dont like the smell of it. The Hood is going to be heading to its blockade point in 20 minutes, so Ill leave the wondering up to you, but something is too special about this one raider for all this activity. Watch out and god speed...

Vandermann set down the E-mail message, thinking to himself, always wondering... why is everyone always wondering about everyone elses motives? We were given a mission and must follow it...

He soon realized the fault in his thoughts—he had become dull in the years since reenlisting in the Confed Navy, in the Landreich he had lived by the motto, "To hell with your orders and do what your heart says." He had learned that was all and good in certain situations, but sometimes orders were orders and to hell with your heart...


TCS Valley Forge; Flight Wing Barracks
1600 Hours (CST)

"Attention, CO on barracks," shouted Captain Paul "Recon" Masterson, XO of the "Aztecs" Panther squadron.

After a few seconds, checking out each of his pilots, Major Alan "Wolf" Cardoso, the squadron commander, replied, "As you were, man. So, is this the place where we will be drunk between missions?"

Every pilot opened up a smile, very happy to know that their new boss wasn
t some bitching ass CO who liked everything by the rules. To have a tightass captain was more than enough for them.


Shuttle Puyallup XI
1627 Hours (CST)

As his shuttle made the jump over the Goddard-Canewdon jump point, Daniel Burdock
s thoughts drifted to four days ago, on the Third Fleet HQ on the Torgo Superbase, the Torgo System...

"Commodore William F. Marshall, Logistics and Supply, Third Fleet," said the little name plate on the door. Finally. He thought he would never find it. Every time he came by there they had moved to another room. He knocked on the door.

"Come in," it said from inside.

He opened the door and entered the office.

"Ah, Burdock. Are you here again to pick some transport orders?" Marshall looked up smiling.

"So it is, sir..." said Burdock then adding, "and it
s, ah, still Dan."

"Just as it is Will." Marshall had stood up and was walking around his desk. They both hearty shook hands and Marshall gave Burdock a friendly clap on his shoulder. They did not part in very good terms the last time. But that was over and done.

They were having some small talk, joking around and telling the latest family news. Marshall was an old friend of Burdock
s family, just as his dad was, just as every Marshall was. In fact, both families enjoyed a close friendship for about a hundred years now.

"You just came in from Krieger, then?" Marshall asked. "How was the journey?"

"Nothing worth to mention," said Burdock apparently bored to death.

Marshall saw it. He understood that boy just all too well. "I know..." he said, "but I thought you are of a more matured age now."

Dan T. Burdock -- Danny as he would only allow friends to call him but not his family -- was an idealist, a hotspur, adventurer, a jack of all trades. Later then he got pretty much screwed up during the Black Lance incident. The following years he was hardly seen by anyone of the two families. Even later they got to see him but just to help him get out of some risky situations. Or he came to exploit the close ties and the insights that the Burdocks and Marshalls had within Confed, or even worse, to use them for specific, yet very mysterious deals. Those days are gone. He had finally found back to himself and returned into the family bosom. Dan had begun to live up to the family
s ideals and traditions. Though he would never admit it.

"Oh, no, Will, not again, let it be. I can't hear it anymore," Burdock protested.

"You don
t want to here it, thats it, son."

t call me son, Will. Or Ill call you Uncle Willie."

His grandsons called him Uncle Willie. He got used to it. He even began liking that name despite the touch of family that it had. He has never been much into the family type thing. Mainly because it meant responsibility. He always tried to avoid that, except in the Navy, where had have a growing responsibility, in the end over a battle group before he got a desk job on the Confed HQ Starbase at Jupiter. He always thought responsibility for a family to be different, to be the most difficult command one officer could get. That was silly as he knows now. When comparing those two responsibilities, the one for his carrier group had not been smaller and he hadn
t cared less for his men than he cares now for his family. Anyway, in the meantime he had entirely become a family CO. The true admiralty however was female.

Dan was very much like him in this case. He would not accept any responsibility except for his own. It has always been so even when he was a little boy. On top of that he was a burned child. The moment he finally accepted responsibility he had been deceived, manipulated and abused. Nevertheless he had grown up, learnt his lessons well. Of course he was carrying responsibility, though he would call it by its name and probably not see it that way. But there was no way he could have avoided that. He was in charge of all East-West Transport activities in the Border Worlds regions.

Besides all that "Uncle Willie" was once a title song from one of Reba McIntire
s numerous DCDs. And he and Dan both hated country music. So Dan still believed he hated that name. Dan was wrong.

"Okay, okay," he said with a triumphing smile. Then he thought it over, deciding to give it another trial. He felt playful today.

"What kinda cargo did ya have on board?" he kept on teasing.

"Will, you now that I am not allowed to speak about it, since it wasn
t addressed to you," Dan answered, making clear he would not say anything more.

William nodded but not so much of acceptance but for finding he guessed right. Dan was acting responsible.

"Right, since we are a little playful today, Will? I have a free shot now! What
s going on in Kilrah?"

s smile was freezing in. He got deadly seriously the next moment. Bingo, Dan thought.

t know. Havent been there lately." Will tried to get around. It did not work, he saw he could cover that.

"Well, it is true. Don
t know. Hm, not much that is. Dan, I do not have to say that this is top secret yet. Indeed we only know very little, especially me. A lot of scrambled messages, disappearing recon patrols... all contact is lost with everyone supposed to just report anything. These are the facts, boy. What I am telling you know is only a vague theory that Pete—you remember him?—told me from Intell. It is about an ancient Kilrathi prophecy... foretelling the arrival of an powerful and ruthless alien race bringing eternal dark to the universe after the destruction of their world... well, the Cats are starting to get skittish, as we saw last year with the Valgard incident."

Dan felt the skin rising in his neck and cold shivers running down his spine.

"And what do you think of it?" he asked unsure.

"The facts speak for themselves. I heard even a complete battle group has already been lost. We better be prepared. And if the prophecy itself is true... Damn, Dan, if only half of it is true we can pack here and head home to see it for a last time. No, we couldn
t, cause there wouldnt be a home anymore. Wed no place to go to. The only thing is to through in every last ship we have, every man and to strike hard and fast to end this before it can fully advance. Id go by myself and though I am going to ask, I do not expect them to gimme a ship again, not to speak of a carrier."

"Gulp," Dan tried to joke, but there was nothing funny. He thought of that he had not been in the Space Force ever since 2673. He even never reported back after he was shot down during the attack on that Border Worlds base. They had probably listed him MIA, even dead. Then he made a decision, not knowing where it came from nor what has gotten into him.

"Okay then, Will. Gotta go. I have to pass by at the recruitment office, I guess."

Will said nothing. He came round the desk again towards Dan. They were facing each other for a long moment before they hugged.

"Take good care of yourself, Danny boy," Will said. His voice seemed to be shaking a little bit.

"You, too, Willie," Dan whispered. "Tell the family counsel and I suggest Colin to take over. I do not want him to follow me"

"He always does, you know. He is your brother."

"But someone has to run the business here in these sectors. I expect it soon to be more vital than ever for this region. And assign Sandra to him. He always had an eye on her and now that we
re through... She is a good girl. She can make him stay. See you!"

He walked out of the room.

William F. Marshall sat motionless for more than half an hour. Dan had finally grown up.

You will make it, Dan. Damn it, you got to...

Dan snapped awake, just in time to see the busy flight deck of the Valley Forge as his shuttle gently touched down inside.

Mechanics were laying under some of the F/A-105A Tigersharks, doing the last fine tuning while other ships were still being armed. The flight deck crew was clearing the launch area for the start of the forthcoming patrol.

Colonel Natasha Trebek, the WC, and 1st Lieutenant Paul "Kraut" Hartmann, probably the current CO of the 114th "White Hope" Tigershark squadron, were rushing down the corridor.

"Why must he be arriving right now when we are starting that recon patrol?" asked the WC, upset.

s his squadrons patrol, by the way," Hartmann threw in.

"I know, and that makes it even worse," responded Trebek. "He was supposed to arrive yesterday with that 1630 shuttle. Why the hell is he that late? He missed the briefing. I am not going to tell it again. Kraut, you got to brief him as soon as you have launched."

"Is he going on that patrol, too?" Hartmann asked, evidently disappointed. He had hoped to lead his squadron, that it had been during the last two months, his first squadron, one last time before the new CO, Burdock, would officially take over.

"Of course he
s going on that patrol. I want to see that S.O.B. who dares to be that late is doing out there. And by God, if I dont like what I see, he gets the holy hell kicked outta here in no time, Im promising that!" the WC got even more upset the longer she thought about it. The new CO of the Tigershark squadron was late and how late he was... in less than 15 minutes the TCS Valley Forge would not have been here any longer but on its way to smash those pirates. "Uncle Willie" was his callsign. Man, she knew she would love this guy. Oh, yes... but she doubted that her love would be answered. The WC smiled grimly.

Dan looked over the flight deck as he walked over to the hangar bay. So, that
s my new home, he thought. Though it was a Concordia-class carrier, he was a little disappointed. He had served on one back in 2673. Actually he had hoped to get on this new megacarrier, the Midway. This ship here was nothing new to him. Well, that was not entirely true. The carrier had gotten some improvements, at least some interior updates he could see here and there. Moreover and the most important point was a fine selection of the newest fighter models. Burdock had just briefly looked through the data packages that he had got. The only thing he took a closer look on were the stats, descriptions and pilot evaluations of the Tigershark, the fighter that he would get to fly.

There had been lots of other things on his mind to be dealt with lately. He was reactivated right away after he cleared his case to the recruitment officer. We must be in pretty deep trouble when Confed takes anyone who has been retired that long with that little questioning and testing before sending him back into active service. Burdock thought back to how they pushed through his file. At one point he was asked if he wanted to keep his old callsign "Gotcha" and he answered "No." Burdock felt getting upset again as he remembered how he got his new callsign. Because he did not immediately come up with a new one the officer had asked him which date there was. Dan not understanding the purpose of his question had answered it. "So it
ll be 22 then!" the officer had said, raising Dans massive protest. "Well, think youre right. Sounds silly! What about Uncle Willie, then?" Dan had sat there struck by horror, his mouth wide open. He had not been able to think clear. All he remembers is that he was about to jump over the desk and to kill that bastard, but they had not been alone. Superior officers had been present too. Will must have played a game on him has been his next thought. But what a nasty game that was. No, Will would not do that. Since he had not able do say anything instantly. The officer assuming his agreement had already bombarded him with a dozen new questions. At that time he had been informed of the current tactical situation, though "inform" had not been the right word for it. He had not been able to obtain a lot more information than he had previously from Will except that they were presumably facing another renegade Kilrathi clan.

After he had spent the rest of the day and the whole night getting physically and mentally checked and packed up with the usual fighter pilot outfit and equipment, he got his first transit flight to Delius. Despite the common practice, he had only 3 days time to get on board his carrier. During the flights and short stopovers he tried to arrange for his consecution at East-West, to contact all of his friends and partly managed to meet with some on the way. Aside from that he had done a lot of thinking about past times.

What he had not done was to even browse his assignment data chip. There would be still enough time to study it onboard as well as the extensive material on his GIF chip.

As he reached the main corridor he bumped into a man and a woman.

"Captain Burdock, I presume," said the Colonel.

Burdock dropped his flight bag, straightened himself and saluted. "Captain Dan T. Burdock asks for permission to come on board!"

"Permission granted," spoke Colonel Trebek. The WC.

"Colonel Trebek," Dan said to the Russian-looking Natasha Trebek, "You
re, ah, the wing commander here?"

"The WC, yes." With a little over a full wing of fighters in six squadrons, sixteen fighters per squadron, the Valley Forge
s 71st Fighter Wing, larger than most single-winged carriers’ when one figured in the pilots from the battle group’s Plunkett and Murphy support ships, almost justified the presence of a Commander-Air-Group/CAG. "But Im sure you are eager to go with your squadron on that patrol now, Captain...?"

"Well, I
m just -- " started Burdock but was interrupted sharply by the WC.

"... though you just arrived..." continued the Lieutenant standing next to the Colonel and whose name tag read Hartmann.

"Well, sirs, there has been -- " Dan began to stutter.

"... and even missed the briefing..." the Colonel firmly focused on Burdock, she could not resist to add "... which should have been your job..."

Dan did not know what to say, he was confused ... and somehow he felt there was still more to it. "... his squadron...?" "... his job...?" Suddenly, he felt very hot. A presentiment.

"I give you one minute to get to your cabin, in your flight suit, and into your cockpit," the WC ordered impatiently. "Hartmann... no," she said then, instead she called, "Lieutenant Eloui, be so kind as to show Captain Burdock his cabin."

Lieutenant Eloui came over and they headed towards the pilots quarters. Dan was unsure of what to say. He had not expected such a "warm welcome."

"Pretty reserved, the WC, hmmm?" Dan carefully asked.

"Well, it does not look too good if a squadron commander almost misses his carrier. We have been sent off to hunt down some pirates. You
re real lucky to find this ship still on its position. Eh... if I may say so, sir."

"Oh no, holy shit," it slipped out of his mouth. His presentiment proved to be true. He was the new Tigershark squadron
s CO! Now, it all made sense. That was what was meant when the recruitment officer had said that he was given a Tigershark squadron. But he had not been fully listening, just worrying about his idiotic callsign.

"It sure won
t be that bad, sir. Finally, well see some action!" Lieutenant Eloui replied, enthusiastic.

"No, I did not mean the pirates," Dan responded absent-mindedly.



F/A-105A Tigershark 101 [ Python Lead ]
1937 Hours (CST)

"Damn it," Dan cursed. He could have kicked himself for not having read his assignment data file. That I call a great new start of my second career in the Confed Space Force, he thought. Why had he joined Confed anyway instead of enlisting with UBW? Why did he quit with East-West Transport at all? He did not know it anymore. His thoughts wandered around as he flew his upper left patrol position.

Right after the start -- he had to go first -- Paul "Kraut" Hartmann, now ex-CO, had briefed him roughly about their patrol. They were doing a standard search pattern patrol as they approached Bentley Station. The idea was to alarm the pirates who then hopefully would proceed right into the trap which was composed by 3 blockade points and our capships waiting there.

So far nothing had happened and it looked as it would stay that way. Burdock was happy about that. It gave him time to make himself familiar with his fighter and his new command. At least he got the Tigershark. A fighter he did not feel all that uncomfortable with having extensively flown its predecessor, the F-86 Hellcat V.

Nevertheless he decided to take some hours in the sim as soon as they were back. Several times he had changed the formation they were flying. Each time he had have passed the lead on to one of his two wingmen. So he kept themselves busy and prevented his wingmen from grumbling around. At the same time he could check out how they were doing.

"Okay, ‘Klepth,
its time to head back. Let ‘Mystique Eloui take on lead now," he said over the comm.

"Aye, aye, sir. I return to your wing. I
ll be there on time," Gregory "Klepth" Bousdoukos replied.

"Still silent running, Alpha Wing!" Dan ordered.

"Okay, okay. Uncle Willie," Klepth came via comm.

Dan winced painfully. That callsign. He hated it. Every time he heard it his tummy would contact. He had to get rid of it. ASAP!

s Alpha Lead!" he shouted, irritated.

"But you are not leading... I mean, know... sir," said Klepth.

"Shut up, Klepth!" Burdock yelled.

Apparently Bousdoukos was very active on the comm that was way he had ordered radio silence. He wanted to be alone with his thought and not to have someone talking bull on the comm. If nothing happened they had a nice uneventful three hour patrol back ahead of them. This would give him enough time sort things out. Moreover to clear off his mind from his really rotten beginning on board his new carrier.


TCS Valley Forge; Flight Deck
1950 Hours (CST)

"All right, boys
n girls, time to babysit some Confed capships," piped Major Cardoso. "Catapult launch in 10s." A brief moment after, 16 newly-commissioned Confed F-108A Panther Space Superiority fighters screamed through the Valley Forges launch bay, pair by pair, assuming formation on Panther 001.

After a few minutes on top speed, clocking at 528 KPS, it was time to split up.

"Today we are running a bit stretched out to cover all capships at same time... although I don
t really seem to believe that some fucked up pirate gang would try to take out of our big boys, even if they didnt have any escort, so you should all be safe. Alpha Wing is Nitro and I, so to see if I can get this fresh-from-the-Academy look out of his face, we are going to cover the TCS Forstchen. Beta Wing is Recon and Skipper, you are forming up on the TCS Ohlander. Gamma is Spectrum and Ice, and you two cover the TCS Stasheff. Theta is Draft, Dragoon and Shiva, so youll be escorting the TCS Nagato. By the way, Draft, please try to bring the kids home alive. Zeta is Raptor, Burrito, and Baron, so you are sticking with TCS Nagato. Senior officers on command. We will meet back at Nav 4 no later than 2030 Hours. All right, lets do this."


TCS Valley Forge; Bridge
2010 Hours (CST)

Captain Vandermann watched as the patrols fanned out on the tactical display array. Five big blue dots representing the five capships each surrounded by several smaller dots representing the force of the Aztecs Space Superiority Squadron. The display also showed the locations of the incoming Tigershark TARCAP search patrols, which as of yet had revealed nothing. Vandermann looked over to Lt. Susan Anderson, who ran the tactical and DSSS section of the bridge with Lt. Commander Schaefer.

"Any word from the patrols?"

"Skies are reading blue, Captain. So far all we
ve encountered is empty space," the Lt. replied. Vandermann looked over to the viewport that covered the front section of the bridge compartment. "Somewhere out there you are waiting..." he thought to himself. He knew that somewhere out there The Guild was lurking... and only time would let their hiding place be put in the spotlight.