: “ With Friends Like These. . . ”


Union of Border Worlds
The Orestes System
January 14th, 2681

This is Alpha Leader to Valeria Flight Control, we humbly request permission to land," Lt. Colonel Ryan "Knight" Speares spoke softly into his vidcomm unit as he looked out the port side of his canopy at the assembled might of Carrier Battle Group Valkryie. It was the most impressive showing of Border Worlds military might he’d ever seen, and Knight suddenly felt very glad that the Union and Confed were now very much at peace.

"Flight Control to Alpha Leader, where the hell have you guys been - you’re two days late! And what happened to your transports?" The Flight Controller didn’t seem all that impressed at the sight of eighteen Excaliburs jumping into the system.

"I... apologize for our tardiness... we had to dump the transports, and the extra fuel stops required to get these birds here on their own kind of slowed us down a bit. Do we have permission to land?" Knight asked again.

"Yeah, why the hell not…" the Flight Controller replied. "And by the way, welcome to the Border Worlds."

"Jee, thanks." Knight switched off the annoying Flight Controller and opened up a channel to his pilots. "Okay, lads, we have permission to land. Bring these babies in nice and soft, and get ready to make some new friends!"


BWS Valeria; Bridge
About 10 seconds Later…

"Obnoxious prick!" the Flight Controller said as the Confed pilot’s face blinked out, replaced by a UBW insignia. Standing up, he walked over to the door to the Captain’s ready room. Knocking softly, the young ensign waited patiently for the massive steel doors to slide open. When they finally did, he was surprised to see Admiral Hanton in the room as well. Whipping off a rigid salute to both officers, he turned to face the Captain.

"Captain Que, you asked to be notified as soon as the Excalibur transports arrived," the Ensign said nervously.

"The transports are here. Excellent…." Captain Sang Que said, rubbing his hands together in delight. He and the Admiral had pulled a lot of strings to get these fighters stationed aboard the Valeria.

"Well, as a matter of fact, sir, the th-thuh-transports aren’t here," the Ensign stuttered as the gaze of his captain, along with that of the battle group’s most senior officer, fell on him.

"Explain yourself, Ensign - are the Excals here or aren’t they?" Admiral Hanton asked.

"The Excals are here, sir, ah, I mean ma’am... but they didn’t come in transports. They flew here by themselves."

"Oh, they flew here by themselves." Hanton nodded slowly, then turned to face Captain Que. "These are those new high-tech Excals which can fly themselves."

"Oh. Shall we go have a look?" Sang asked, a small smile on his face as he walked past the Ensign. As the doors opened, he turned back to face the young crewman. "Ensign, would you let Colonel Witt know his new toys are here?"

"Don’t bother, Ensign, I think he already knows," the Admiral said, pointing to the bridge viewing station, which overlooked the flight deck. Silhouetted against it were Colonle Alex "Skywalker" Witt and his old friend, Major Renegade Perkins. They stood side by side, watching silently as the Excaliburs landed one by one.

Finally, Renegade broke the silence. "What do you think, Skywalker... worth the wait?" he inquired.

"That depends on whether or not your talking about the eight years I’ve had to wait since I last flew one of those beauties, or the days I’ve had to wait for these guys to arrive." He paused for second, then continued, "Either way, yeah, it was worth the wait."

As the Captain and the Admiral joined the two pilots, the bridge elevator doors opened up, and Commander Damien Chelsea, walked onto the bridge. Chels, as he was widely known, was the commander of the BWS Freedom, Battle Group Valkryie’s second (smaller) carrier. Spotting his friends, all of whom he had known since his days as an ensign aboard the TCS Melbourne, at the viewing station, he walked on over and joined them. "Magnificent, aren’t they?" he asked in a hushed tone.

Surprised, the four officers turned to face him.

"Damien, what are you doing here?" the Admiral asked, voicing the thoughts they were all thinking.

"What, you think I’m gonna miss something like this? Especially considering the Freedom didn’t even get one space superiority squadron, while the Valeria got two!"

"Jealous, Chels?" Skywalker asked.

"Nah. Those Bearcat interceptors we got were enough of a miracle. Besides, I got nowhere to fit them in, do I?" Chels replied.

Sang answered back, "Well, you could have been First Officer on a nice big, new Arcadia, but no, you wanted…"

"A carrier of all of my own, and hey, I got it. And I’m only in my thirties Sang, imagine what I’ll be commanding by the time I’m your age!" Chels said with a cheeky laugh.

"Well, you guys are welcome to stand around up here making fun of each other, I’m going to head down and meet my new squad members," Alex said. "Coming, Ren?"

"Shouldn’t you guys wait for the Colonel?" Captain Que asked.

"Actually, the Colonel’s flying a training mission with some of the newer members of Reaper Squadron," Skywalker said as he started heading for the

"Well then, I guess it’s up to us to go down and be diplomatic," Renegade said as he caught up to Skywalker and headed for the lift.

"Renegade?" Sang queried, looking at Erin and Chels.

"Skywalker?" Chels asked in reply, looking from Sang to Erin.

"Diplomatic?" Erin said, looking at her two counterparts with raised eyebrows.

"HOLD THAT LIFT!" all three yelled as they made a dash for the closing doors.


BWS Valeria; Flight Deck
About the Same Time

Captain Kathy "Rogue" Williams, her brother Maj. Mark "Dagger" Williams and Maj. Gabby "Flamer" McKay had been waiting on the flight deck from the moment they heard that the Excals had jumped into the system. Like most Union pilots these days, they had spent their entire careers as enemies of Confed, and this was the first time they could say they were actually happy to see eighteen Excaliburs jumping into a Union system. It was a reassuring feeling to know that these graceful war birds were now on their side.

They stood back and admired the fighters as they touched down. When all eighteen were down, the three pilots began to walk slowly towards them, trying to look as casual as possible. The pilots were climbing out of their cockpits, and Dagger noted that most of them appeared to be technicians, not actual pilots. He pointed this out to his companions.

"That would explain how they flew eighteen fighters here with only six pilots," Gabby said, scanning the Confed group to pick out the pilots from the techs. It wasn’t a hard task. There was something about a fighter jock (even Confed fight jocks, she had to admit), that made them stand out from the crowd.

"Shall we go meet the new guys?" Kathy said as she headed into the crowd that had gathered.

The other two looked at each other, shrugged, and followed her. They caught up to her as she was introducing herself to one of the younger looking pilots.

"I’m Captain Kathy Williams, callsign 'Rogue.'" Pointing to the other two walking up beside her, she continued, "this is my brother, Mark, call him Dagger, and this is Maj. Gabby 'Flamer' McKay."

"Pleased to meet you," Gabby said, extending her hand.

"Nice to meet you guys. I’m Major James Carter, but you guys can call me Diablo. So, are you people in the 24th?" Carter asked, his heavy Terran accent sounding very out of place to the three Union pilots.

"Yep, that’s us, your new squadronmates. Welcome to the Union," Dagger replied.

"Thanks," Diablo said. Looking around, he spotted one of his fellow Confed pilots. "Hey, Rocco, get your ass over here - these guys are our new squad mates," he yelled.

"What the hell are you on about?" Rocco called back as he walked over.

"These three are flyers from the 24th… Y’know, the 24th – our new squad…" Diablo said slowly.

"Oh, right. How you doin’? Call me Rocco."

"Got a first name there, Roc?" Flamer asked.

"Yeah, I got a first name," Rocco replied indignantly.

"Wanna tell us what it is?" Dagger prompted.

"Oh, shit yeah, right, sorry. Long flight an all, made me forget my manners. Major Ricardo Santino, at your service," Rocco said.


The Confeds immediately snapped to attention, while the Border Worlders took a more leisurely approach – they did nothing.

Looking at Rocco standing at full attention, Rogue tapped him on the shoulder. "Y’know, we’re a little more relaxed about this sort of thing here in the Union. The Captain, well he’s a little stricter then most, being ex-Confed and all, but he generally doesn’t insist on you standing at attention unless he’s actually talking to you. The Admiral, well, she’s a little stricter… but not much."

"She – your highest ranked officer is a woman, ha-hah!" Rocco said with a chuckle.

"So? Your highest ranked officer was a nut job named Tolwyn!" Dagger returned.

"Quick, Diablo, how long have we been aboard?" Rocco asked hurriedly.

"Twenty-two minutes, thirty seconds. Shit, that means the Colonel won the pool," Diablo replied after checking his watch.

"Pool? What the hell are you guys talking about?" Flamer asked, puzzled.

"We had a pool going to see how long it would take for someone to make a smart ass comment about Tolwyn. Thanks to Dagger here, our Colonel just picked up close to a thousand credits…" Rocco said.

"Oh, this liaison thing is gonna be fun!" Rogue said.


BWS Valeria; Flight Deck

Alex, Ren, Chels, Que, and Hanton stepped out of the lift and were immediately surprised by the number of crew that had decided to come and check out the new fighters and their pilots. Sang simply walked over to one of the P.A. terminals and grabbed a mike. "Attention all crew, this is the Captain. If you're not supposed to be on the flight deck, could you please get off it, now. Thank you very much."

The crowd quickly dissipated, as those crewmembers that suddenly realized they had somewhere better to be made a rush for the exits. After all, Sang Que had not only brought a large number of crew with him from the BWS New Jersey, he’d also brought his reputation as a fair but strict officer who was easily pissed off.

"That’s better," Captain Que said with a smile. As he said it though, his voice was nearly drowned at by a roar of engines as the members of Reaper squadron returned from their training flight. Ducking behind a blast shield, the Captain shouted to his companions, "Admiral, why don’t you and I go grab Raptor before meeting the Confeds. That way Captain, Admiral, and Wing Commander can present a united front."

"Good idea, Sang," the Admiral replied. She and Sang waited for the engines of the Retaliators to power down, then moved off to find the Wing Commander.

"We gonna wait here for them?" Chels asked his old friends.

"Chels, Chels, Chels, you may be higher ranked than us now, which in itself is a travesty of justice, but you also still have much to learn from your old teachers." Ren said with a smile as he started walking to where the Confed pilots had congregated.

"Yeah, besides, I think I can see some of the other Taipans over there already," Skywalker said as he followed Renegade over to where the other pilots where still chatting beside Diablo’s fighter.

"Yeah, well I’m gonna wait here for the others! See you in a few minutes," Chels called out to his rapidly departing friends.

Seeing them coming, Rogue waved them over. "Hey, Skywalker! Say hello to your new pilots."

After a brief round of introductions and small talk, Alex looked around him. "Say, where’s your CO?" he asked.

"Hmm, oh, the Colonel’s running diagnostics in his fighter, reckons he had some engine trouble. He’s a bit of a perfectionist." Diablo stopped, and pointed to the Excal with the flight leader’s markings. The pilot was slowly climbing down the ladder. "There he is now, wanna go meet him?"

"That’s kinda what I’m here for…" Skywalker said.

They walked over as a group to where Knight was talking to a technician, his back to Skywalker. Alex tapped him on the shoulder. "Welcome to the Valeria. I’m Lt. Colonel Alex Witt. I’m the CO of the 24th. It’s good to have you and your boys aboard, finally."

Lt. Colonel Speares slowly turned around to face Skywalker. "Finally? Do you have a problem with the fact we were a little late, Lt. Colonel Witt?" Knight asked in a slow, controlled tone.

"Well, it’s just you guys are two days late, but it’s no problem. Anyways, like I said, my name’s Alex Witt, call me Skywalker or Alex, it’s up to you. And you are…"

"Lt. Colonel Ryan 'Knight' Speares. And I know who you are, Witt. I’m very familiar with your reputation," Knight said in the same controlled tone, as if he was trying to keep his emotions out of his voice.

"Well, Colonel Speares, it’s good to have you aboard - welcome to the Union. And just out of interest, what is my reputation in Confed these days?" Skywalker asked, though he already had feeling a he wasn’t going to like the answer.

"As good as could be expected, considering you’re a convicted traitor and defector," Knight said, this time unable to keep some of the anger from spilling into his voice.

"What the hell are you on about, Colonel?" Rocco asked, walking up to take his place beside Knight.

"Should I tell them, Witt? Should I tell them how you were on the Melbourne back in Circe?" Knight said, almost spitting out the name of the infamous Confed carrier. In the annals of Confed history, only the notorious Orion had a blacker name.

"If I recall, you were supposed to face the firing squad for your fuck-ups in that system. But you and your friends got let off, and then you very conveniently jumped ship and headed for the Border Worlds. Well, I had friends on the Melbourne, friends that didn’t make it back from Circe."

"Hold up, buddy, who the fuck do you think you are? Coming on our carrier, abusing our CO -- what the hell do you think you’re doing?" Dagger yelled as he pushed his way past Skywalker.

"Hey, Dagger, this is between the two colonels - stay out of it!" Diablo said, grabbing Dagger by the shoulder.

"Bite me, you Confed wanker. If I wanna stick up for my buddy, I will. That’s how we do it in the Border Worlds!" Dagger shouted as he shoved Diablo back.

"Hey, why don’t you both just shut the hell up!" Skywalker yelled, before turning back to face Knight. "And you, if you have a legitimate problem with me, that’s fair enough, I’m all ears. But if your complaints are based on a trumped up conviction that was overturned years ago, then drop it now."

"Okay, I’ll drop it – for now. But don’t for a second believe that I’m happy with this assignment. I’ll train your pilots and I’ll fly missions with your pilots, but don’t expect me to be all that friendly about it."

"Well, don’t expect us to be all that friendly in return," Rogue retorted.

"Do you think I really care?" Knight fired back, as Commander Chelsea came running over.

"How are we doing, people?" he asked, puffed after running half the length of the flight deck, "For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Commander Damien Chelsea, captain of the BWS Freedom – that’s CVBG-V's other carrier. I can hear you lot shouting from a hundred meters away. I don’t want to know what you’re arguing about, because frankly I don’t really care. However, Colonel Ragupathy, Captain Que, and most importantly, Admiral Hanton, are on their way over, and they will care. So, try and remember that you people were brought together to strengthen the peace between the Union and Confed, not ruin it! If you have differences, settle them in private, not in the middle of the fucking flight deck! Because if I hear of another outburst like this, I’ll have you all transferred aboard the Freedom, and I’ll throw you all in the brig."

"Sure thing, Chels, we’ll play nice. Won’t we, Knight?" Skywalker said quietly.

"Sure, Witt, if we’ve got something to settle, we’ll settle it in private," Speares replied.

"Good, now look sharp, here comes the Admiral and company," Chels said, as he straightened his uniform.

The Confed pilots lined up beside their Colonel, while the Union pilots stood at attention beside Skywalker.

"Well, isn’t this impressive!" Captain Que exclaimed as he saw the eighteen pilots standing at attention. "I think I’m going to like serving with Confed pilots again. No offense, Raptor!"

"Lt. Colonel Ryan Speares, callsign Knight, reporting for duty, sir!" Knight said briskly, without a hint of the anger that had been in his voice only a few seconds ago.

"It’s an honor, Colonel. I’m Captain Sang Que, commander of the Valeria. May I introduce Admiral Erin Hanton, commanding officer of Battle Group Valkyrie, and Colonel Rajan 'Raptor' Ragupathy, Wing Commander of the 15th Tactical Flight Wing."

"And allow me to introduce my pilots. From the left: Major James 'Diablo' Carter; Maj. Ricardo 'Rocco' Santino; Maj. Kate 'Ice' Marshall; Capt. Erin 'Fire' Cole, and Capt. John 'Sniper' Robinson."

"Welcome to the Union of Border Worlds, people," Raptor said, firing off one of his best (albeit still rather sloppy) salutes. "Colonel Speares, I’d like to assimilate you and your pilots into the Taipans as quickly as possible. I realize that there is a considerable amount of paperwork to be done, but I think it’d be best to leave that until tomorrow, and allow the 24th some time to get to know each other. Agreed?"

"Yes, sir," Speares replied.

"Sounds good to me, Raptor, but if at all possible, I would like to begin training as early as tomorrow," Skywalker added.

"Of course. Well, if there’s nothing further, dismissed, gentlemen," Raptor said, once again saluting the new men before turning and walking back to where the Reapers were discussing the training mission they’d just flown.

"Well, by all means, get to know each other, but, Skywalker... I want this squadron combat ready as soon as possible," Admiral Hanton said, before walking back to the lift with Captain Que and Commander Chelsea.

"Okay then, let’s go get you guys settled in. And, Knight... I’d like to see you in my office in one hour," Skywalker said, as he took one last look at the impressive array of military hardware his new eighteen fighters represented.

"Yes, sir, Colonel, sir. One hour... not a problem," Knight replied sarcastically.

"Oh, and... try not to be two days late for this rendezvous, Knight," Dagger called back over his should as he entered the nearest lift, the doors closing behind him before Speares could reply.

"That has to be the worse start to any assignment I’ve ever seen!" Major Kate "Ice" Marshall said as she walked beside Diablo.

"There’s a lot of hate built up there, that’s for sure," Diablo responded. "I mean, I’d personally prefer to have stayed in Confed so I could’ve got my hands on some of these new fighters they’ve been bringing out, but, this is where we’ve been sent, so I guess I have to deal with it. No point really in trying to pick a fight with the new CO."

"Do you know much about the Melbourne Defection?" Ice asked. "Y’know, I’m not an idiot, I have heard of it, but I don’t know the facts."

"The facts were always pretty straight forward. The TCS Melbourne got sent into the Circe System as part of Tolwyn’s plan to instigate a war. He told the Melbourne’s crew that they had to invade because the legitimate Confed government had been overthrown in a rigged election. It was total bullshit, but they had no reason not to believe Tolwyn, so in they went.

"When they got there, they hit some pretty rock solid defense. Took a shitload of casualties, I’m talking four fifths of their flight wing, massive losses aboard the Melbourne, plus they lost most of her escorts I think. Y’know, they really got snapped. So Hanton does the…"

"Wait... Hanton, not the Admiral we just met?" "Ice" asked, surprised.

"One and the same. Anyway, Hanton’s only got two options -- abandon the system, or lose the whole battle group. So they pull out. The moment they reach Confed space, the Military Intell Attaché (who rumor has it was Black Lance, but that was never proven), he arrests Hanton, her first officer, the comm officer and Witt, claiming that they’re traitors. Tolwyn stacks the Tribunal with his cronies, and they find the Four guilty in record time. They get sentenced to death, but the day before the execution, Tolwyn and Blair have their little showdown, and badda bing badda boom, it becomes obvious that Tolwyn has set the Melbourne Four up, so they all get pardons from the Senate."

"Now this is where it gets interesting…as if it wasn’t already! Hanton refuses to accept her commission back. She resigns, along twenty of her officers from the Melbourne. They steal a couple of shuttles and head for the Union. Now, Confed doesn’t want her to defect – she knows too much. So they send fighters after the shuttles to stop‘em, but somehow, they manage to reach Union space, where Admiral Wilford places them under his personal protection. But they refuse to sign up with the Union, unless Wilford guarantees that they get to serve on the same carrier together, under Hanton ’s command. Which of course he does, and eight years later, this is where they’re at!"

"That’s incredible. But when did Witt come on over to the Union?" Ice asked.

"Witt waited until the Black Lance Hunt-Down was over, because he wanted to do his bit against Tolwyn’s little monsters. Then him and his sidekick, Renegade, grab a shuttle and on over. Once again, they refuse to sign up with the Union unless they get to serve Hanton. Which of course they do, and Witt’s our CO," Diablo finished off.

"So if everyone knows they were set up, how come Ryan hates Skywalker so much?" Ice asked, puzzled.

"Beats me, but there’s more to it then Witt simply being a member of the Four, because Ry was just Mr. Nice Guy to the other three. Whatever it is, it sure is going to be one hell of a tour of duty," Diablo answered.