: “ Call to Arms ”


Near O.D.S. Zulu Station
The Landreich System, Leo Sector
Planet Landreich Prime orbit
1400 Hours

The eighteen Intruders of the VMFA-34 White Knights flew in a tight V-formation slowly circling the starbase that protected the humble capital of the Border Worlds Union. Zulu Station was the main defensive base in the system, although not as large or powerful as Confed's Sol or McAuliffe's Alexandria II stations, Landreich Station was still a formidable defense platform in her own right.

Stretching nearly two kilometers end-to-end, the station was armed with an impressive array of laser cannons, AMGs and Stormfire point defense weapons. The station also boasted the most heavily armored hull in the sector along with heavy phase shielding that could deter even the most aggressive plasma bombardment.

However at the moment, the huge station was not the focal point of Lt. Colonel "Knight" Martin's thoughts. He was more concerned with what was on the other side of the station.

It was taking them longer than it should to orbit the station because of the peace time regulations. Under the new regulations instituted after the Treaty of McAuliffe, no fighter was allowed to exceed 300 KPS while in a civilian traffic zone.

Knight laughed bitterly at that. Just a few months ago he could have buzzed the tower of a fuel tanker and not gotten so much as a reprimand for it. Now such a stunt would probably kill his chances of ever making full colonel.

Knight didn't particularly like the Treaty of McAuliffe. It seemed far to much to him like the Border Worlds were just being reabsorbed into Confed as some kind of reserves. Hell, officially his squadron was a part of the Confederation "reserve forces"! No, he didn't like the terms of the treaty but it had been signed and he was just a soldier and however much he might not like it, he followed his orders.

He knew several other officers that hadn't been so understanding about the treaty. A close friend of his had resigned in disgust after hearing of terms of the treaty, saying that "he'd be damned before he'd serve in Confed!"

Knight didn't really blame him, and even sympathized with him but stayed with the service out of loyalty to the Union and his decision that he could do more good for the Union in his uniform than out of it.

Finallym after several minutes of weaving through a maze of civilian transports and cargo ships the squadron of medium fighters found their target. Hanging in space a few thousand kilometers from the station was the Border Worlds newest and most deadly battle group.

Two Achilles-class heavy cruisers that formed the bulk of the group's heavy hitting power, with anti-matter guns and laser cannons pointing menacingly over their bow.

Four Sheffield-class destroyers were in loose formation around the group forming a picket line. The Sheffields were good ships, even if the new Murphy-class destroyers that Confed was bringing on-line had rendered them second-rate ships, they could still dish out quite a bit of punishment to an enemy force.

Next to the destroyers sat the BWS Freedom, a Ranger-class light carrier, of a design that had been in service from the First Kilrathi War. Though she was an older design, same class as the renown TCS Victory, she still provided a critical carrier presence in the Border Worlds.

Above the Freedom was the BWS Nemesis, one of the newest designs in the galaxy, the battlecruiser was a technical marvel for the Border Worlds. Applied with stealth and hitting power in mind the Nemesis could deliver a powerful blow to an enemy force as well as stay undetected for a long time with her passive stealth system.

The last warship in the group was the crowning achievement of the Border Worlds Navy. The BWS Valeria. The Valeria was one of the Border Worlds newest carriers, the second of her class in fact. Only three Arcadia-class carriers were slated to become operational this year and another two would be coming on-line within the next few years. The Valeria was a powerful symbol for the Border Worlds as one of the few fleet carriers in its Navy. She and her sister ships shouted out to the rest of the galaxy that the Border Worlds were becoming stronger and were coming closer to being on par with the rest of the galactic powers.

As Knight flew closer he saw several civilian ships in parked orbit near the battle group. Many of them had peace symbols and other protest images on their hulls. He had heard that there had been some protesters during the launching of the Valeria but he didn't really believe it. He couldn't believe that a people who teetered on the brink of extinction less then a decade ago would so vehemently protest the existence of the people who were their guardians.

"Bloody ingrates," muttered Knight as he drew closer to the battle group.

"What was that, boss?" asked Ice.

"Nothing, Ice. Just thinking out loud."

"Oh, sure thing, boss."

Knight smiled inwardly, Ice knew exactly what he had been thinking but knew just as well as he that to say so on an open channel would be more trouble than it was worth.

As the squadron flew closer to the battle group Knight instructed a small course adjustment to take them directly to the destroyers. This was the part that worried Knight the most. Some of his men had never even landed on a carrier outside the sims before and now they had to land on a destroyer. An infinitely more difficult task.

"All right, people, just take it in nice and slow. No need to rush it on this one and if you get the abort signal from the flight officer then you damn well better abort and to hell with your pride! Because if you don't die from a crash, I will most assuredly be there to kill you afterwards!"

Knight knew that some of his people were just kids and would love the chance to hotdog the landing attempt. He also knew several old comrades during the original War that had thought they had known better than the flight officer. Most of them had ended up as just a pile of twisted  metal on the flight deck and an empty coffin launched into space.

Knight was the first in the landing cycle for his squadron. His flight had been assigned to the BWS Fury, one of the four destroyers in the battle group.

"Fury Control, this is White Knight Leader requesting clearance to land."

"White Knight Leader, you are cleared to land. Come to portside docking clamp and slow to 140 KPS."

"Copy, Fury, am moving to position now." Knight banked his fighter slightly to the right and pulled back on the throttle. As he drew closer to the Fury he could see the first set of docking clamps on the side of the ship. He rolled his fighter so that her belly was facing the hull.

"White Knight Leader, cut your propulsion and stand by for tractor lock."

Knight was directly above the clamps when he cut his engines. Almost immediately he felt his fighter buckle slightly as the tractor beams of the destroyer grabbed his small craft and dragged her down to the ship's hull. He felt a heavy thud when his fighter finally contacted with the clamps followed by a sharp clang as the clamps secured to his fighter and held her in place.

Okay, he thought, that was the easy part. Now I've got to get inside the ship...

Knight double-checked his flight helmet and magnetic boots to make sure they were working normally, if either one was either not sealed correctly or weren't functioning how they should, he would be breathing vacuum or taking a rather embarrassing space walk until they sent a shuttle to come and pick him up.

Finally, when he was satisfied with his suit he popped the canopy. There was a sudden rush of air as the pressure in the cockpit was suddenly released. Knight unbuckled his harness and climbed carefully down the ladder built into the side of the Intruder and stepped down to the hull. His boots automatically magnetized him to the plating of the ship as he walked carefully to the airlock about ten meters away from the fighter.

Lastly, he reached the airlock and punched in his authorization code. The door opened, he stepped in and waited for the pressure to be restored in the E.V.A. chamber. Following the restoration of pressure, the pressure gauge flashed green and he popped the seal on his helmet breathing in a good lungs' full of recycled air.

The airlock door opened and he stepped through to another small chamber where a small cadre of senior officers stood waiting.

"Welcome aboard the BWS Fury, Colonel," came a pleasant enough voice. "I'm Captain Jason Barnett, her commanding officer."

Knight came to stiff attention and saluted the ship's colors and then saluted the Captain which he quickly returned.

"I apologize for the facilities, Colonel, but we're not really used to landing fighters aboard this tub."

"That makes two of us, Captain," Knight replied with a small smile.

Barnett smiled and stepped aside to let Knight get a good look at the senior officers gathered around him. "This is Lt. Commander Michele Kane, my exec. This here is Lt. James Michner, my chief engineer. This is Lt. Harry Wilks, my chief gunnery officer. This is Lt. Jared Kline, my chief navigator. And finally we have Ensign Fay Budrouge, my chief sensor operations officer."

Knight saluted each one in turn and exchanged the normal pleasantries of officers first coming aboard ship.

"How are the rest of my squadron handling the landings?" Knight finally asked. The thought had been gnawing at him ever since the airlock had sealed behind him.

Barnett frowned. "Not as well as I might have hoped, Colonel. Two of the other fighters in your squadron missed there first docking attempts and had to go back around and try it again." He exhaled noticeably. "It's taking nearly forever to get those fighters docked and secured, I hate to think what would happen if this was a combat landing. We'd be cooked if we had to stay on one course this long to recover your squadron."

Knight had been worried about that ever since he had received the orders to report to these ships in the first place. He also knew that if things ever got really bad, his squadron would have no place to land and with the carriers already crammed to the gills with every fighter and shuttle they could carry, they would either have to die with their craft or bail out and pray that they were picked up. Neither prospect appealed much to him.

"I'm aware of the problem, sir, but the only way I can see to lower the recovery time is to have my pilots continue to practice it. Some of those pilots out there have never landed on a carrier outside the sims and to land on a destroyer... is to be extremely difficult, at best, for them."

Barnett looked less than pleased with the arrangement but finally submitted to the fact that nothing much could be done about it. "Very well, Colonel, I just hope your pilots can get proficient at this quickly. For all our sakes."

"On that, I very much agree with you, sir."


BWS Fury; Personal Quarters
Later that night...                                            

Knight sat upright in his bed going over the landing reports. The personal quarters he was furnished with were small and cramped boasting only a small desk with a computer terminal, a tiny closet just big enough for his spare uniform and a bed that was really to small for any normal-sized person. It was a definite step down from his apartment on Landreich Prime.

Of course, no one ever said life in the UBW Fleet was luxurious.

Knight grumbled as he shifted his weight to try and get more comfortable. The reports from the rest of his flight leaders were less than heartening. Two of his planes took some minor damage during their landing attempts and had to be repaired before they could land again on the destroyers. That meant he would have to send both fighters over to the Valeria or the Freedom to get the repairs before they left the system.

He checked his time table. The group was scheduled to make jump in just under four hours. They'd be cutting it close.

He got out of the bed and sat at the compact desk less than half a meter away from where he last was.

This place is too damn small, he thought for umpteenth time.

He keyed the computer and saw the Fury's Comm Officer on the screen.

"Get me the deck boss on the Valeria and if you can't get him then try the Freedom's."

The young ensign looked up from a datapad looking slightly startled by the sudden order. "Umm, yessir. Just a moment." There was a short pause as the ensign disappeared from he screen while he made the necessary calls.

"Chief Petty Officer Jones of the BWS Valeria here, sir. What can I do for you?"

"I've got two birds that need repairs ASAP. Chief, think you can get'em running before we make jump?"

"Yessir, just have'em here soon and I think we can arrange that."

Knight smiled, the first piece of good news he'd had all day. "Thanks, Chief, I'll have them over within the next fifteen minutes. Just make sure you've got room on the deck for them."

"Oh, I think we can squeeze them in, sir," replied the Chief with a slight smile. Suddenly the smile disappeared, he looked over his shoulder for a moment and then back at the screen. "Sorry, sir, change of plans. We just got a recovery order for all our birds already out. I'm afraid we can't take on your birds anymore."

"What the hell! Why would there be a recovery order now?! We're still just getting underway!"

"Don't know, sir, but I've got my orders. Sorry, sir... hang on a second. The Colonel wants to talk with you."

The screen blanked on him for a second to be replaced a moment later by the face of a Space Force Colonel staring back into his eyes through the screen. "Lt. Colonel Martin?"

"Yes, sir. May I ask to whom I'm speaking?"

"This is Colonel Ragupathy, Wing Commander of the 15th Tactical Air Wing. I understand you have a few damaged fighters."

"Yes, sir. They took some damage while landing on these destroyers."

"Yes, it's an annoying situation, Colonel, but unfortunately it can't be helped."

"Yes, sir." Knight was less than happy with the response, but like he had said... it couldn't be helped.

"I'm afraid we won't be able to help you with your fighters right now, Colonel, we just got orders to make for the jump point at flank speed. We'll be there in just under two hours. That leaves us barely enough time recover our own fighters."

Knight raised an eyebrow at the Colonel's last comment. "Sir? Why are we making flank speed for the jump if this is just a 'show-the-flag' mission?"

"Because this could be a lot more than just a 'show-the-flag-mission'. The Kilrathi seem to be getting agitated about this 'Prophecy' of theirs. HQ thinks there's a good chance they might do something stupid." The Colonel looked over at his terminal for a second and then back at the screen.

"Sorry to cut this short, Colonel Martin, but I have to go. I'll fill you in on the details once we have more information." He cut the link.

Knight just sat there for a moment then, mostly confused at the recent turn of events but also a bit annoyed at the lack of information being given to him.

"What the hell is going on here?!" he said quietly, asking no one in particular.