: “ Second Chances ”


The Four Seasons Restaurant
Day of the Treaty of McAuliffe, July 20th, 2680/2680.201

To be sure, the private dining room of the Four Seasons Restaurant was filled to capacity tonight, with over twenty people seated around the long central table. Twenty-one were dressed in Borders Worlds Naval dress uniforms, while the remaining two were in Space Force attire. However, despite their obvious allegiance to the Union, several of the diners also wore Confederation medals and miscellaneous decorations, a reminder of earlier times. They were a closely-knit group, sharing a camaderie that had been forged over the last eight years, through more than their fair share of trials and hardships.

However, despite the good food, good drinks and the arguably good company, everyone in the room was dead silent. The only noise came from the large viewscreen mounted on the wall, on which all eyes were focused. For on the screen, a direct subspace/FLASH live feed was broadcasting one of the most historic events in galactic history -- the signing of the Treaty of McAuliffe.

Each person sitting around the table watched intently, many using their napkins to wipe away an odd tear. Finally, the three delegates on the screen, representing the Union of Border Worlds, the Terran Confederation, and the Ninth Kilrathi Empire/Kilrathi Imperium, signed the historic treaty that would end the Second Kilrathi War and bring about an official conclusion to the bloody Cynium Campaign otherwise nicknamed "King of the Mountain." Immediately, those gathered in the dining room erupted into spontaneous applause. They rose from their seats, clasping each other in emotional hugs, slapping each other on the back, enjoying a moment they had waited eight years for.

Eight years ago, these twenty-three men and women had served together aboard the TCS Melbourne, one of the Confederation’s frontline carriers responsible for patrolling the hazy border between the Confederation and the loosely-aligned Border Worlds. Apart from the two pilots, they had all been members of the Concordia-class fleet carrier’s bridge staff. But that had ended in the days following the brutal "Battle of Circe," in which the Melbourne and her escorts, acting on orders from the now-late Admiral Tolwyn himself, had tried to recapture a system that had voted to join the fledgling Union of Border Worlds.

In four days of fighting, the Melbourne lost nearly four fifths of her flight wing, as well as hundreds of other casualties, most of which occurred in the final bloody fight of the campaign. The majority of the Melbourne’s flight wing had been inexperienced, and they were severely outclassed by the more experienced Union pilots. Many of the Melbourne’s senior officers had quietly voiced their misgivings about the mission. After all, the Confed claim to the system was flimsy at best, almost non-existent, in fact. However, the orders to invade Circe had come from Confed’s most powerful officer, and so they had been obeyed.

When the battle group had finally taken too much damage to even remain in the system, let alone capture it, Erin Hanton, the much-loved and respected captain of the Melbourne, had ordered a full retreat back to Confed space. Unfortunately, the situation did not improve much with a return to friendlier space. Hanton; her First Officer, Commander Sang Que; Communications Officer Ensign Damien Chelsea; and Major Alex Witt, the most senior Space Force officer to have survived the battle; were arrested and charged with a multiple of crimes relating to their "gross negligence" in failing to recapture the system, including charges of treason. Their failure had been a personal embarrassment to Tolwyn, and he would ensure that they paid the ultimate price.

In the short, swift trial that followed, all four were found guilty by a tribunal made up of Tolwyn’s loyalists, and sentenced to death. However, only days before the sentences were to be carried out, Colonel Christopher Blair and the Space Marshal faced off for their now-famous show down on the floor of the Halls of the Great Assembly. It was revealed that Tolwyn had tried to instigate a war with the Union, and the Melbourne had been an unwitting part of the plot. Faced with this new evidence, the convictions of the "Melbourne Four" were quashed and full pardons granted -- they were even offered the chance to return to their positions aboard the Melbourne.

However, rather than return to a Confederation that no longer shared the ideals she and her men had fought so hard for during the First Kilrathi War, the then-Captain Hanton led a mass defection of the Melbourne’s bridge staff to the Union. Under the protection of Admiral Wilford, the Captain and her supporters were allowed to remain together, stationed aboard the BWS St. Louis. Months later, following the Black Lance Hunt-Down, Major Alex Witt and Major Edward Perkins fulfilled the promise they had made to the Captain and their friends, and also defected to the Union.

Twenty-three men and women, none of whom were Border Worlders by birth, had given up their careers, their friends and their families and defected to the Union, simply because their principles had demanded it. They had overcome initial problems of distrust and prejudice from their Border Worlder counterparts by serving the Union with the utmost dedication and loyalty, finally gaining the respect and trust of people who at one time had been their enemy.

Now, eight years later, the same twenty-three sat around the main table of the Four Seasons’ private dining room and celebrated a treaty that would bring Confed and the Union closer together than at any other time in history. It was something they had all dreamed of since that day back on Earth when they had agreed to turn their backs on the Confederation and all that it had become. It was a goal that had held them together throughout their trials aboard the St. Louis. It was the ideal they had fought so hard for in the Bush. Now that dream had come true.


UBW Space Force Academy
Col. Jack Tanagawa’s Office
A few months later

"So, you think they’re going to decommission the Taipans?" Colonel Jack "Samurai" Tanagawa asked his old protégé, Lt. Colonel Alex "Skywalker" Witt. Samurai had been Skywalker’s mentor back when Jack was teaching at the Confed Academy. Skywalker had been a young, inexperienced cadet back then. Now he was an accomplished pilot, and an experienced squadron commander – skills he attributed to his years under Jack’s command, first at the Academy, and then later, when the teacher and the pupil were reunited aboard the St. Louis and charged with founding the squadron that became known as the Taipans.

When Samurai had decided to return to teaching after being injured in battle, Skywalker had taken command of the squadron he had helped build. Unfortunately, there had not been much of a squadron left - always a small squad, they had taken heavy losses during a campaign in the Bush region, and that had left Skywalker with very little to rebuild from.

"Well, the rumors from the Looking Glass don’t make it look real good, Samurai," Alex said as he leaned back in the comfortable leather chair that sat across from Samurai. "With the cutbacks this peace is sure to bring, it was going to be hard enough to rebuild the squad from five back to eight – but now, we need to have eighteen pilots."

"Hmmm, so you need to make up thirteen spaces on the flight roster. Lemme guess, they say it would just be easier to split you guys up and absorb you into other squads then find thirteen flyers willing to be transferred into the Taipans?" Samurai said, as he pulled out a notepad and began scribbling away.

"Considering I haven’t found one guy willing to transfer in, I think it's fairly obvious what’s going to happen," Alex said with a sigh.

"What, no one wants in? I know kids at the Academy who’d kill to fly on the wing of someone with your type of experience. Hell, even Renegade could find a new wingman. What’s the problem?"

"Old history has a way of rearing its head, y’know? Seems that now we’re going to be instituting this great new transfer program with the Confed Military, most people think it would be career suicide to be flying under the command of a guy who was found guilty of treason by a Confed Military Tribunal."

"But you were cleared of that bullshit!" Jack exclaimed with surprise.

"Doesn’t mean shit – thanks to my defection afterwards, my name’s still mud in Confed."

"Well, at any rate, here’s a list of pilots you might wanna try. Most of them have just graduated, but a couple are experienced pilots. I haven’t flown with all of them, but from what I’ve heard, most of'em are pretty good." Samurai said as he handed over the list he’d just jotted down.

Skywalker read a few of the names, then spotted one he recognized. "Jonathon 'Ronin' Tanagawa, 2nd Lt.," Skywalker read the name off the list then lifted his eyes to face Samurai. "The kid graduated?"

"Top five percent of his class," Samurai replied, his face breaking into a wide smile.

"Not bad!" Alex said, then started shaking his head slowly. "I can’t believe the little shit’s graduated -- that makes him... What, twenty now? Are you trying to make me feel old?" Skywalker said. Ronin was Samurai’s eldest son, and Alex had known the kid since ’68, when Jack had brought Jonathon to a meeting of Alex’s 20th Century Film Appreciation Society to watch that all time classic, Muppet Treasure Island.

"You’ve been like a big brother to him, Alex, and since he is the only one of my kids to follow me into the Forces, I wanna make sure someone’s keeping an eye on him."

"Well, if he’ll sign the transfer requisition, I’ll take him." Alex continued scanning the list. "Who’s this Eli Court?"

"Major Eli 'Hannibal' Court. You’re going to need an XO, and Eli’s your man. He did more than his fair share during the Kilrathi War, retired, and then came back to the UBW Space Force about the same time I defected. He's been flying heavy fighters ever since."

"And you think he’ll wanna make the swap to Hellcats?" Alex asked.

"I talked to him last week, and he mentioned that he’d like to get himself an XO posting again. I don’t think he really cares what he’s going to be flying," Samurai replied.

Alex folded the list up and placed it in his pocket. "Well, I’ll have a look over this tonight, then start making some calls." He stood up from his seat and walked to the rear wall of the office. It was covered in photographs, some dating back over twenty years. The wall was a pictorial history of Samurai’s career, covering everything from his graduation from the Confed Space Force Academy to last week’s Union Space Force graduation. Here and there Alex spotted a familiar face, until he was finally drawn to a small group of pilots sitting on the wing of a Hellcat: the founding members of the 15th Recon/Interception Squadron, the Taipans.

"Remember that day, Jack?" Alex asked softly.

"I remember the look on your face when you and Ren stepped off the shuttle to find out I was your new CO," Jack said, smiling. Skywalker had learnt of Samurai’s defection while he was on trial, but when he and Renegade asked to be assigned to any squadron aboard the St. Louis, he’d no idea Samurai was aboard. The shock had been so great that he and Jack had spent the next twelve hours in the bar "calming their nerves."

"You been keeping up with what these goons have been doing lately?" Alex said as he lifted the photo off the wall for a closer inspection.

"Well, I believe the CO copped out and took a cushy post at the Academy," Samurai said with a chuckle, "Dagger’s been flying Banshees off an O.D.S. – he’s even managed to crawl his way up to major. Smitson has retired, I hear he has shuttle run on some deadbeat mining world. King, and Speed, well, you know what happened there. Poor bastards. Jones is raising a family somewhere, good luck to him. And the other two, the loopy looking duo in the back, they’re still stuck in the same rut, in the same squad, after eight years. Losers."

"Hey, at least I’m still flying. I didn’t run off to the Academy just because I got shot down!"

"Oh, you got me there! But, aren’t you the guy who got shot down by his own wing commander!"

"Low fucking blow! He wasn’t my wing commander at the time, was he!? And what can I say? I was having a bad week." Alex paused, then added in a serious tone, "Remember, Colonel Ragupathy doesn’t know about that, and since he’s teaching here now I don’t want you and him having little chats about me, okay?"

"You know I wouldn’t mention that to anyone, especially Raptor." Samurai cast his eyes down at his watch. "Twelve-thirty, what do you say to going and grabbing some drinks before meeting Renegade for lunch?"

"I’m up for some beverages, let’s go!" Skywalker replied as he replaced the photo he was still holding back on the wall and moved for the door.

Just as the two reached the door, the communications screen lit up with an incoming call. Samurai took another quick look at his watch, scowled, and walked over to answer the call.

"This is Tanagawa, make it quick, I’m going to lunch," Samurai said in an annoyed tone of voice. The speaker on the screen was an immaculately dressed colonel sitting behind a large, neatly organized desk, a brightly polished nameplate in front of him. The whole scene reeked of bureaucracy.

"Sorry to interrupt you, Colonel. I’m Colonel Ian Morgan from Space Force Command. Is there a Lt. Colonel Alexander Witt with you?" the arrogant tone of Colonel Morgan’s voice made Jack dislike him immediately.

"Gimme a second." Jack hit the mute button and signaled for Alex to come over. "Some pencil pushing dickhead from the Looking Glass wants to chat."

Alex hit the mute button, "Witt here, what can I do for you, Colonel?"

"I’ve been trying to find you all day, Lt. Colonel, so I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Including you, there are five pilots in the 15th. There is supposed to be eight. Very soon, that number will rise to eighteen. I don’t think your squadron is really worth going through the hassle of saving, so the 15th will be decommissioned, effective immediately. Your pilots will be absorbed into other squadrons. I’m sorry."

"What the fuck!? There’s got to be some mistake!" Alex yelled defensively. "I was told I could have more time to get the transfers I need. You’ve fucked up buddy, no way are you decommissioning my squadron! I’ve spent eight fucking years building this squadron, and I’ll be skiing with Satan before you take it off me!" Alex yelled, his tone of voice reflecting both the anger and the shock he was feeling.

"I’m sorry, Colonel, but that’s the way it is. I know how this must feel, and I am sorry."

"No, you little puke, I don’t think you are," Alex said, venom dripping from his words. If looks could kill, the Colonel would have been vaporized where he sat. "No, I think you have no fucking idea of what it means to have your squadron ripped off you. I don’t see you wearing any pilots wings, so don’t fucking patronize me. You’ve never had to place your life in somebody else’s hands. You’ve never had someone trust you so much that they put their life in your hands. Do any of the other desk jockeys in your department owe their lives to you, and vice versa? Fuck no, because you’re just a glorified bean counter, an accountant in a uniform, a uniform you’re disgracing I might add. You’re a desk jockey on an ego trip. You’re a pencil pusher with the pencil shoved so far up his - "

" - I’ll remind you that you’re talking to a superior officer," Colonel Morgan said, his voice rising in anger.

"No, he's talking to a higher-ranking officer, not a superior one," Samurai interjected.

"Jack, I’ll handle this!" Alex turned back to face the monitor. "That squadron is the only family I’ve got, you little prick. And because you’re too fucking lazy to get off your fat arse and transfer some pilots into it, you’re axing the whole squad. There’s no way I’m gonna let this happen. I know a few admirals, you’ll be out of a job long before the Taipans call it a day."

"It's too late, Colonel. The 15th has already ceased to exist. You and your pilots will be receiving your new assignments within the week. And after your little outburst, you’ll be lucky to be flying a garbage scow, if you’re flying at all."

"Man, if I ever meet you face to face, I’m going to rip your heart out and show it to you before you die!" Skywalker muttered through gritted teeth.

"Oh, that’ll learn him!" Samurai quipped.

"It’s been a pleasure, gentlemen." With that, the screen went black.


Officers' Club
UBW Space Force Academy
About the same time

Renegade Perkins (Ren for short) was in a good mood. Last night, he’d partied long and hard celebrating the fact his old friend, Damien Chelsea, had been given command of his own carrier. Having been a major influence on Chels during his early years in the Navy, it wasn’t something Ren really thought would last all that long, but hell, it was a great excuse for a party. He’d spent the morning at an extended breakfast with some of the "survivors" from Chels' party - mainly guys they'd served with on the Jersey, including a few who'd served on the Melbourne as well. He hadn’t seen most of them since the Bush, so he'd had a lot of catching up to do.

And now, to cap off what had so far been a great day (i.e., no hangover), he was going to meet his old CO, Jack Tanagawa, and his best friend (as well as current CO), Alex Witt, for lunch - and most likely a few drinks. Skywalker had been a bit down lately, due to all the hassles he was having getting replacements for the Taipans, and Ren was hoping that perhaps the party last night and seeing his mentor today might cheer him up.

Checking his watch, Ren realized it would still be another fifteen minutes before Skywalker and Samurai were due to meet him. He cast his eyes towards the bar, and, spotting an empty stool, decided to relocate. A young man and woman, obviously cadets at the Academy, were seated next to where Ren had chosen to sit. He ordered himself a Bourbon and Coke and sat back. Without realizing it, he began eavesdropping on the conversation of the two people next to him.

"I’m telling you, the guy’s nuts!" the man was saying, "He took Ryan up the other day in a Retaliator, and when he came back down, Ry had tossed his cookies all over the cockpit! It was disgusting!"

"Ryan’s a pussy!" the girl responded, "I’d love to have been in his place. I’d have shown the Colonel a move or two."

"What could you possibly show him about flying that he doesn’t know already?" the young man asked incredulously.

"I said I’d show him a few moves, I didn’t say anything about flying!" she replied, grinning seductively.

"You shameless hussy! Not that you’d have much of chance, though. Rumor has it he’s been seeing some Retaliator pilot he used to command."

Hearing this, Renegade finally put two and two together and realized whom they were talking about. He leant over and tapped the man on the shoulder. "Hate to interrupt you, but are you two talking about a pin-dick Colonel named 'Raptor' Ragupathy?" he asked.

"Yeah, Colonel Ragupathy is one of our instructors. Why, you know him?" the woman, Cadet Benita Rogers said. 

"Yeah, not that well, but I know the guy. Flew with him off the Jersey last year. He was the wing commander, though, and I hate getting friendly with higher-ups, y'know. Sucking up just ain't my thing."

"Oh, really? Last time I checked, a major was one of those higher-ups," the woman said, pointing at Ren's oak leaves.

"Depends where you stand I guess. And the fact that I've been a major for the last eight years don't help my opinion of the Brass much, y'know what I mean?" Ren said as he summoned the bartender over.

"Eight years! Shit, you must of fucked up and pissed someone off big time! What did you do, screw an admiral's daughter?" the young man said.

"Nope. I just defected from Confed, got myself stationed aboard a carrier with a bunch of other defectors, and never really bothered with promotions. One would have been nice, though," Ren said as he polished off his Bourbon and signaled for another.

"Yeah, well, I don't even know you, but if you’ve been a major for eight years already, I'm guessing I'll be commanding a squad long before you."

"I'm sure you will, but you sure as fuck ain't gonna have as much fun as I've had staying a major!" Ren said as he picked up his drink and moved back to his table.

"Renegade! How you doing you, old pirate!" Captain Kathy "Rogue" Williams called out as she entered the bar. Ren, having sat back at his table, nearly toppled out of his seat as he spun around to see who was calling him. Spotting Kathy, he simply pointed at the bar and raised two fingers – Taipan sign language for "I’m having a wonderful day, and you? Do you terribly mind going and asking the publican for two pints of his finest ale?"

"Yeah, yeah, my shout. I thought you were hooking up with Samurai and Skywalker?" Kathy called out as she grabbed the beers and walked over to Ren’s table.

"Supposed to be. They should be here by now, but you’ll do for company 'till they get here. Why are you here, anyways?" Ren said as he took his beer.

"Well, where else am I gonna eat around here? Besides, Frankie and Allan are going to pop by later on to say hi to the Colonel, so I thought I’d wait for them," Kathy said.

"What is this, a fucking reunion?" Ren said as he leant back and put his feet up on the table. "I know you and Dagger and your other brother are visiting your old man, but what are Rapier and Frankie doing here? We’re supposed to be on leave for Christ’s sake. That means I shouldn’t have to see you punks!"

"We know, Ren, and if you must know, this ain't just a social visit." Rogue leaned in closer, her voice dropping to a whisper. "I was visiting my dad, and he’s heard that they might be scrapping the squad."

"What would your pops know?"

"He’s a fucking admiral, Ren. He hears this type of shit."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn’t believe it! I’ve been part of this squad for eight years – I’m a fucking founder! We’ve had troubles before, but hell, we pulled through. And we’ll do it again!"

"That’s telling them, Ren!" Captain Frankie "Frankenstein" Stykes said as he and Captain Allan "Rapier" Roberts walked into the bar. They pulled another table and a couple of chairs over to where Ren and Rogue were already seated and sat down.

"What are you getting so excited about, Ren?" Frankie asked.

"I was just telling him about a rumor I’d heard out of HQ. My brothers and I were visitng my dad…"

"Your brother? The one that used to fly with the Taipans?" Rapier asked. All the Taipans knew that Kathy’s older brother, Mark "Dagger" Williams, had been a member of Taipan squadron during the squad’s years on the St. Louis. He’d been transferred out of the squad about two years before Rogue joined.

"Yep, Dagger was there, as well as my eldest bro, Stiletto," Rogue answered, before continuing. "Anyways, we were visiting my dad, and he reckons that they’re gonna fold the Taipans. Seems no one will volunteer to transfer in, and the guys at HQ aren’t too interested in finding pilots themselves…"

"Hey guys, shut up, here come Skywalker and Samurai," Frankie said, pointing out the window. The others settled down and were all quietly staring into their drinks as the two Colonels walked in.

"Well, isn’t this a pretty picture!" Skywalker commented. "I ain't buying you all lunch, so you might as well piss off now!" he said jokingly, but his squad mates could tell from the tone of his voice that something was up.

"You okay, Skywalker?" Renegade asked as he pushed a chair towards his CO.

"No, Ren. I’m not." Skywalker paused as he looked at the faces of his four squad mates in turn. "I’m sorry guys, I tried to stop it, but…"

"You mean…" Rapier said, guessing at what Alex was trying to say.

Alex nodded his head slowly. "Yeah. The 15th was decommissioned at eleven-thirty this morning. You guys will be getting new assignments by the end of the week."

"Aw, fuck! Now I’ll never get to be XO of this flipping squad!" Renegade yelled, slamming his mug down so hard that it shattered, drawing evil looks from the other patrons. Ren didn’t care. Despite the fact that he knew he never would have been given the XO’s job, he was still pissed, and he didn’t care who knew it. He looked at each of his comrades with a wicked gleam in his eye, one they all recognized and even feared. Ren was gonna go on a bender.

"Bartender, bring me six bottles of your strongest whiskey!" Ren yelled.

"Look, Ren, I’ve got classes, I can’t knock back a bottle with you…" Samurai said. While it was true, he did have lectures to give, he was more worried about how his aging body would cope with one of Ren’s benders, during which he tended to drag down whoever was willing to share a drink with him.

"Yeah, Ren, and you can cancel my bottle, you know I only drink vodka…" Rogue added. She was more than willing to get hammered with her now ex-squad mates, but goddamn whiskey gave her a hangover!

"What the fuck are you guys on about? Those bottles are for me, you guys get your own! But rest assured, we are going to give the 15th one hell of a wake!"

Alex sat back, ordered himself a drink, and smiled. He didn’t really have much to smile about, but what the hell! This squadron had been the closest thing he’d had to a family since he left his real one behind on Terra eight years ago, and he’d be damned if he would let the proud name of the Taipans disappear without a proper send off.


Planet Landreich Prime, Alex Witt's Residence
Landreich System, Leo Sector
The next day

With a groan, Alex rolled out of his bed and onto the floor. He tried to open his tightly clenched eyes, but just couldn't seem to muster the willpower. "Perhaps it has something to do with the sunlight coming through the window," he thought to himself as the cobwebs began to clear from his mind. As he crawled into the kitchen, he suddenly realized that the buzzing he could hear wasn’t actually coming from his head, but rather from his vid phone. Dragging himself to his feet, Alex hit the answer button and tried to focus on the face that appeared on the screen.

"Witt here," he croaked in a hoarse whisper.

"Jeez Alex, you’re a bloody mess!" Samurai answered back.

"Gee, thanks, Jack. Is there something you wanted?" Skywalker asked as he slumped into a chair opposite the screen.

"Yeah, baby. I just finished talking to Raptor Ragupathy - he’s been trying to track you down for the last few days…"

"Yeah, him and half a dozen fucking MPs," Alex replied. "Wait a second, did you say `yeah baby?’ You thief, bring my Austin Powers vid back!"

"Yeah, sure, next time I see ya. As for MPs chasing ya, I don’t wanna hear it. Anyway, Rap has a proposition for ya, and I think you’re gonna be very interested!"

"Okay, what the hell does Raptor want?"


Orbital Defense Station Zulu; Flight Wing Briefing Room
Orbiting planet Landreich Prime
Three days later

"Colonel Ragupathy, I didn’t expect to see you here. What brings you to Zulu Station?" Alex asked in surprise. He had been preparing to meet with the members of his new squadron - meeting some of them for the first time, in fact when the Colonel had just walked in.

"I was on Landreich finishing off some business at the Academy, tying up loose ends... y’know, and I thought I’d stop off here on my way out system. Today’s the big day, huh?" Raptor replied. Despite the long history the two shared, they had never become that well acquainted. That would have to change now that Alex was going to be the CO of one of Raptor’s two space superiority squadrons. This was his way of getting the ball rolling.

"Yep, get to meet them all today. Well, I know half of them already, but I’m meeting the new ones today."

"And how long until you join us on the BWS Valeria?"

"Two days, tops. You just make sure our fighters are ready to go when we arrive."

"That’s up to Confed, but we’re scheduled to rendezvous with the transport tomorrow, so we should have by the time you arrive. By the way, have you decided on a name for the 24th yet?"

"Yeah, we’re gonna go with the Taipans," Alex replied with a smile.

"Thought you might. Anyway, I’ve got to head out, I’ll see you in two days."

"See ya, Rap, and by the way – thanks."

"No problem, Skywalker."

As the Colonel walked out, the members of the newly formed 24th Space Superiority Squadron began filing in, splitting up into two groups as they sat down - those who had flown together in the 15th, and those who were new to the group.

"Well, good afternoon, people. For those of you who don’t know, I’m Lt. Col. Alex 'Skywalker' Witt, your new CO. Before we start the briefing, I think some introductions might be in order. We’ll start with you, Ren."

"Um, okay. Renegade Perkins, Major. You call me Renegade, or you call me Ren. I do not answer to 'Major Perkins' or 'Sir,' and I definitely don’t answer to 'Ma'am.' Started off in Confed about ten years ago. I’ve flown on Skywalker’s wing since then. Defected after the Huntdown. Most importantly, I’ll be serving as the morale officer for this little group, so you better all be able to drink hard, because your in my world now!"

"Hmm, thanks, Ren. Perhaps I’ll just read out the roster, you guys yell out when I call your name and we can get to know each other later on. Maj. Gabrielle 'Flamer' McKay?"

"Right here, sir!"

"I’m sorry, I forgot to mention, same rules apply to me as they do to Ren. Call me Alex, or call me Skywalker. I don’t answer to anything else. Major Mark 'Dagger' Williams?"

"Right here, Alex!"

"Good to have you back in the fold, Dagger. Don’t be surprised if your sister shows you a trick or two though. Speaking of which, Captain Kathy 'Rogue' Williams?"


"Captain Frankie 'Frankenstein' Stykes?"

"Right here, boss!"

"Captain Allan 'Rapier' Roberts?"

"Present and accounted for, chief!"

"Captain Wayne 'Cowboy' Paling, another new name."

"That would be me, sir... I mean, Skywalker."

"Good to have you with us, Captain. Lt. Jason 'Scout' Browning."

"That’s me, sir, and may I say it’s a pleasure to be serving under someone with your reputation, sir!"

"Renegade, tell the Lieutenant what we do to suck-ups."

"We beat the crap out of them! SIR!" Ren shouted out with intensity.

"Thank you, Renegade, and I hope you were paying attention, Browning. Lt. Anthony 'Big T' Dark."

"That would be me, but I prefer Tony if you don’t mind."

"Not a problem, Tony. Lieutenant Jon Tanagawa."

"Over here, Alex!"

"And lastly, where’s my new XO, Major Eli Court...?"

"Oh shit, the station communications officer told me to tell you Major Court’s shuttle’s been delayed, he won’t be here for another hour or two," Rapier said. "Sorry, I forgot."

"I’ll have to fill him in later then. Okay, where to start… we’ll start off with the basics. We’ll be stationed aboard the Arcadia-class carrier Valeria, currently on her shakedown cruise. She’s brand spanking new, and is commanded by Captain Sang Que. Colonel Rajan 'Raptor' Ragupathy commands the flight wing. I’ve served with both men before, and we couldn’t get a better posting. The Valeria is the flagship of Battle Group Valkryie, commanded by Rear Admiral Erin Hanton. I’ve served with her as well, and Scout, she really is someone you should suck up to. The woman’s a military genius, just don’t piss her off.

"Now, about the squad itself. The first thing you’ve probably noticed is that this squad only has twelve members. That’s because we’re going to be picking up six Confed pilots when we reach the Valeria. Officially, they are liaison officers, here to boost goodwill between Confed and the Union. Unofficially, they’ll be doubling as flight instructors for our new fighters."

"Our new fighters?" Flamer asked, puzzled.

"My little surprise for you guys. In about twenty hours, the Valeria is going to receive a shipment of eighteen Excalibur F-103s. They’re ours. The Confed lads are going to be showing us how to fly them. That about sums it up. We’ve got about 36 hours before we’re due on the Valeria, so I say we skip question time for now, head up to the lounge and get better acquainted."

"Agreed. Last one there has to buy the first round!" Ren yelled as he sprinted for the lift.


Orbital Defense Station Zulu; Lounge
Two hours later

Renegade and Skywalker were walking back from the bar with a tray full of beers when someone tapped them on the shoulder.

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but I’m looking for Lt. Colonel Witt. Would either of you know where I could find him?" The speaker was a pilot, in his late thirties, with hawkish features and black hair going gray around the temples. He carried a duffel over his shoulder, and it was obvious he’d just arrived on the station.

"I’m Alex Witt. What can I do for you?" Alex asked, even though he’d already guessed that this must be his new executive officer.

"Major Eli Court, reporting for duty, sir." Eli thrust out his hand, "Call me Hannibal."

Alex shook hands with the Major and directed him over to the rest of the group.

"So, what kept you, Major?" Alex asked after a brief round of introductions.

"I’m sorry, sir, one of my shuttle’s engines blew. Kinda slowed things down a bit."

"I bet. Anyways, no harm done. You missed the briefing, but I can fill you in on the shuttle flight out to the Valeria."

"That would be great, sir. Ah, if you don’t mind me asking... is that a Terran accent, sir?"

"Yep, Terran born and bred. Came to the Union eight years ago," Alex said, already knowing where this conversation was leading.

"Hmm, I thought I remembered the name. You were one of the Melbourne Four, right?" Hannibal asked.

"You remember that? Shit, that’s impressive. Yeah, that’s me."

"It’s no wonder you got the Excalibur posting then, if you’re one of Erin Hanton’s mob."

"I wasn’t aware the Admiral had a 'mob,' and I don’t appreciate the insinuation. No one from the Melbourne had any voice in who was selected for the Valeria’s flight wing. Rajan Ragupathy chose me because he knew I’d flown Excals back in Confed, not because I’m friends with the Admiral or the Captain," Alex said, a trace of anger in his voice.

"I was hoping you’d say that. Jack Tanagawa told me you were a decent guy, that when they decommissioned your last squad you were more worried about the squad itself than your own career. I just wanted to double check. I think we should get along pretty well, then."

"Agreed, I’m looking forward to serving with you, Eli. But for now, I’m gonna go check on the preparations for our trip, make sure everything’s been packed away properly. Oh, and, Eli... get to know the squad. You’ll have to pick a flight group soon enough," Alex said as he stood up.

"Will do, Skywalker. Will do."