PART 1 OF 2
Kruger Air Defense Base
Planet Landreich Prime
The Landreich System, Leo Sector
Lt. Colonel Erik "Knight" Martin looked at the new sleek F/A-43 Intruder medium fighters parked in their concrete bunkers, admiring their sleek lines and deadly look. With a total of six guns protruding from the fuselage of each spacecraft, it was an impressive sight to behold. The fighter's main guns were a pair of meson cannons and particle guns for offensive punch along with two leech guns for disabling enemy craft as well. It could carry up to eight ship-to-ship missiles or alternately could be armed with ground suppression fireworks.
Supply had just brought the new fighters over the day before and the ground crews had been working all night to assemble them and bring them on-line as fast as possible. Their work was well worth it. All 18 of the new fighters were ready for takeoff and trial runs to iron out any bugs in the system that the factory techs might have missed.
Knight walked up and down his new fighter, feeling the side of the hull with his hand. Tugging at the missiles on their racks to make sure they were secure, he went through the rest of his pre-flight check list. As he did so his thoughts wondered to days past and how the squadron had started out nearly ten years ago flying craft that should have been destined for the scrap heap.
Back on Circe they had flown ancient Sabre heavy fighters in ground fighting against Confed-backed mercs and then when they had been transferred to the BWS Guam. Another relic of the First Terran-Kilrathi War, one of the old Khorsan-class escort CVEs the same class as the old, infamous TCS Tarawa. There they had earned a reputation as one of the best squadrons in the Border Worlds Marine Corps. They had been sent to Landreich after their tour on the BWS Guam as part of the Border Worlds capital's defense forces and had been serving there for almost two years.
Thoughts of the past also brought up his now-dead homeworld of Telamon IV and of family and friends long since dead at the hands of the Black Lance. Erik had never truly gotten over the genocide at Telamon IV, and at least partially blamed Confed for his loss. The detached, logical part of his mind told him that wasn't fair, that Confed and the Black Lance were two separate entities.
His heart hadn't quite caught on to that concept yet.
Knight pushed away the old ghosts of the past and concentrated on the task at hand. He took one last look at the external racks of the Intruder and decided they were secure. Knight walked around to the ladder and climbed into the cockpit of the fighter. He switched on his HUD's and other instruments and turned on the twin engines to let them warm up before takeoff. He heard the low rumble of the engines behind him as they came up to power.
"Arthur Leader to Arthur Flight: what's your status, Marines?" asked Knight as he began to move his fighter out of the bunker and onto the tarmac.
"Arthur Two, standing by for takeoff," Lt. "Bulldog" Flinn responded.
Flinn had received his callsign for his bullish personality. He was the kind of person to simply charge through an obstacle rather than approach it with any kind of tact. Knight had chosen Flinn as his wingman for his aggressive flying style as well as his ability to fly support when the need arose.
"Arthur Three standing by for take off," rattled off Captain "Bishop" McLaughlin.
Bishop was a veteran of the squad. He had been with it ever since its conception at Circe and was one of the best pilots in the squadron. He would be up for promotion to major within the next few months. Although Knight would hate to see him go, he knew he would sign the recommendation for his promotion and reassignment as an exec in another squad. It remained to be seen if he would accept the reassignment, though.
"Arthur Four, standing by for takeoff," replied Lt. "Shark" O'Brian.
Shark had received her callsign back in flight school. Unlike most other pilots, though, it had little to do with either her flying style or personality. It was simply that she had earned a rep as the cadet cardsharp and had lived up to the callsign in more than one high stakes poker game when she had joined the squad.
"All right, Marines, today's mission is simple. Just put these new birds through their paces and return to base. Nothing fancy, just make sure they work!"
Knight was the first to taxi to the runway and takeoff. The fighter glided smoothly into the air as he pulled back on the stick.
He had to force himself not to pull back to hard since the new craft was more responsive than his old fighter, the Vindicator. Slowly, he eased his fighter into the air and started circling the base, waiting for the rest of his flight to get into the air.
Eventually, the three other Intruders of Arthur Flight arrived in the air and the small wing of fighters sped off to the target range.
20 minutes later
The four Intruders flew at a brisk 450 KPH. Since they were still in an atmosphere, they couldn't bring them up to full power. Finally they reached their first objective: the target range.
"All right, boys and girls, form into a loose diamond formation and let's go take out a few dummy tanks!"
The "dummy tanks" were actually just targets with electronics that simulated laser fire. Although no actual laser shots were fired, Knight and the rest of his flight would be able to "see" them on their heads up display. Therefore giving the pilots a realistic-as-possible simulation of a tank-busting mission.
Knight began his descent and armed his meson guns and air-to-ground missiles. The mesons didn't do as much damage per shot as the particle guns but they had a faster refire rate, something that Knight usually preferred in combat.
Bulldog was close on his right with Bishop and Shark following closely behind, lining up for their own runs. Knight switched to his missiles and targeted the first tank, designated "Target A1" on his targeting HUD.
"All right, Bulldog, let's do it!" said Knight with a grin on his face.
"With ya all the way, boss!" replied Bulldog.
The two fighters dove in on their targets. The tanks began sending up "laser fire" and the two Marines flew into slight jinking maneuvers to throw off their opponents' aims.
The sound of a solid missile lock rang in Knight's helmet and he triggered his first missile.
"Fox one!" shouted Knight as his missile sprang from the undercarriage and lanced out at the target drone.
"Fox one!" repeated Bulldog, indicating he had also launched his first missile.
Knight switched to guns and selected the next target on his HUD as his missile slammed into the target drone and turned it into so much as scrap mettle.
He lined up on the drone and opened fire. A few of the drone's laser bolts hit him but impacted harmlessly on his shields. The computer recorded the simulated damage as only a 6% loss of shield strength. Knight bore in on his target, raking it with meson bolts until it broke up and exploded.
Bulldog performed a similar maneuver and took out another target tank of his own.
Both of the fighters in the first wave pulled up and away from the target area and cleared the way for the next one. Knight watched as Bishop and Shark both fired missiles at the drones and then followed it up with strafing runs of their own.
After three more bombing runs, the drones were no more.
Kruger Air Defense
Knight's Intruder landed smoothly on the tarmac and taxied off the runway to his hanger. He shut down the weapons systems and engines along with his electronics and climbed out of the cockpit. The ground crew were waiting for him when he came down.
"How did she handle, sir?" his chief tech, Robert Kelly, asked.
"Like a dream, Chief!" replied Knight with a smile on his face. "You boys did a crack job bringing these birds on line so fast, keep up the good work."
The crew smiled and patted each other on the back as Knight walked out of the hanger and toward the debriefing room.
The new fighter had performed well, a lot better than the squad's old Vindicators would have under similar conditions, and that was only while flying in an atmosphere. He couldn't wait to see how they performed in space.
Knight heard the familiar crack of a sonic boom and looked over his shoulder. His exec's flight was just taking off for their trial run. He looked up into the sky as the Intruder went full vertical with afterburners flaring a white hot trail behind him.
Although he couldn't be absolutely certain of who was piloting the ship, he had his suspicions that it was his old friend and also his exec Major David "Ice" Bates. Ice was a good pilot and a good exec but had a flare for the dramatic. The sonic speed takeoff seemed just like him.
Not to be outdone by their flight leaders the rest of Lancelot Flight took off with equally eardrum-shattering sonic booms of their own.
Knight smiled slightly. If he were still with Confed he most likely would have had to ground them for a week for such a stunt. But here in the Border Worlds, such asinine rules were usually laughed at, much less obeyed.
Besides, he could understand their enthusiasm and didn't mind the ringing in his ears as long as his squadron was getting a morale boost from playing with their new toys.
Planet Landreich Prime
63, 138th Street
Knight jerked out of bed in a cold sweat, breathing hard and with hands shaking. He had another one of the dreams.
He thought he had finally stopped them, that after ten years that at least his mind had come to grips with the horror. He was wrong.
It was the same as it was the night after he found out about his homeworld. He watched as the black fighters swarmed in on his home. He was in his fighter and was firing until his capacitators were dry, but still the black demons bore in on his home. He watched as the demons dropped their poison on his friends, his family, and his fiancée. He watched their pleas for help and knew that he could do nothing. Nothing but watch all that mattered to him die a horrible death.
He watched as their skin turned into gel and their own bodies began killing them. He saw his parents, his sister begging for it to stop and finally watched them fall to the ground dead.
That day, Knight had been stationed on Circe and was still fighting the last remnants of mercenary forces on the planet. He was never anywhere near his homeworld when the Black Lance unleashed their eugenics-borne Gen-Select bioweapon. He never had a chance to help any of them. But more importantly, he never even had a chance to say goodbye.
He walked into the bathroom and washed his face, looking into the mirror.
"There was nothing I could have done," he told himself. "I was dozens of light years away. There was nothing I could have done," he repeated.
He had told himself the same thing over and over again for years, but some part of himself never accepted it. In some corner of his mind he always heard a voice saying that he should have been there, that he should have died with them. The shrinks told him he was suffering from "survival guilt."
He laughed slightly at that. He had known what it was called the first time he had the dreams, and yet it took an egghead with a Ph. D. to officialize it.
He walked back to his bed. He paused before he got back in and looked over at his wife. Rachel was still asleep. Good, he thought, I didn't wake her up. Rachel was everything to him, but he wasn't prepared to tell her about the dreams. The only man he had ever told about the dreams was is old friend, David, who also happened be his squadron's exec. He was another survivor of Telamon, he had the dreams, too.
Silently, Erik slipped into bed and pulled the covers over him. He looked over at Rachel one more time and kissed her on the forehead.
Someday, he thought, Maybe someday I can talk to you about it, but not now.
Kruger Air Defense
Lt. Colonel Martin's office
Knight took another sip from his coffee cup and fought off the drowsiness in his head. The dreams had continued for the rest of the night and he had slept like shit.
He was just finishing his evaluation report of yesterday's trial runs when his office door chimed indicating someone wanted to come in.
"Come," answered Knight.
The door opened to reveal a Navy Lt. in his dress blues. He looked around nervously and finally settled his eyes on the Lt. Colonel who was now eyeing him with something between annoyance and amusement at seeing one of the squids decked out in his dress blue costume.
"Yes, Lieutenant, what can I do for you?" Knight finally asked the young officer.
"Sir, I have a priority dispatch for a Lt. Colonel Erik Martin. Are you him, sir?"
"Well, if I'm not then I'm in the wrong office, wouldn't you say, Lieutenant?" Knight replied with a sarcastic tone.
"Umm yes, sir. I have a Priority Double-A dispatch for you then, sir."
Now Knight was paying attention, he expected it to be just another message from the base commander. But a Double A dispatch meant something significantly more important than a shift in duty schedules.
"Well, give it here, Lieutenant!"
"Yes, sir." The Lt. handed over the sealed letter with an obvious relief as he was glad to be rid of it.
"Yes, sir." The Lt. snapped off a salute and walked out of Knight's office. Knight broke the seal and opened the letter.
To : Lt. Colonel Erik Martin
From : Lt. General Klauskie
Re : Immediate Transfer
Colonel, as you may or may not know, recently the Border Worlds Navy launched a new battle group code named Carrier Battle Group Valkyrie, CVBG-V. The commander of this battle group, Rear Admiral Erin Hanton, has had trouble equipping her force with a full wing from only the Space Force and has requested that Marine Air help pick up some of the slack.
I am, effective immediately, transferring your squadron to this battle group. Your squadron will not however be based on the battle group's carriers. Your squadron will be placed on board the battle group's escorting destroyers with external docking clamps. I know it's not what you and your men are used to, Colonel, but I'm afraid it's all that's available out there.
A more in-depth briefing will be given to you once you arrive at the battle group by your new WC and CO. His name is Colonel Rajan "Raptor" Ragupathy. Good luck & good hunting - do the Corps proud!
Lt. General Klauskie
Marine Air Commander
Union of Border Worlds Marine Corps
Knight looked up from the letter, dumbfounded. His first thought was, "You gotta be shitting me!" The squadron had just gotten all new fighters and now they had to not only fly them in space but also land them on a destroyer!
If it was important enough for the commander of the group to go to such extreme measures to get all the fighters on her ships as possible, there had to be something going on that the General wasn't letting on.
Knight left his office and headed for the comm room. The orders said to immediately leave for the battle group and he had a lot of work to get done before they left. Starting with getting his squadron back to the base.
A small smile crossed his features as he walked toward the comm room. They were gonna see action
TO BE CONCLUDED. . .