PHASE IV : THE LOKI ARC ( 30 of 66 )

: ď Further Down the Spiral Ē
PART 2 OF 3 : INTO THE VOID ( 2 / 3 )

"What though the field is lost?
All is not lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate
And courage never to submit or yield,
And what is else not to be overcome."
- Milton

TCS Valley Forge; Wing Commanderís Office
The Loki System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
FEB 14 2681/2681.045; 0710 Hours (CST)

ďYou say Iím a bitch like itís a bad thing." It had been a heated argument right from the get-go. And a bitch she truly is, thought Lt. Colonel Samuel "Sirdar" Richard of his squadron's XO, quiet this time. "Anyway, you think I wanted a career... oops, turns out I just want a monthly paycheck. A carrier, but no career. Donít force me into a role I wasnít made to fit. I started out with nothing and still have most of it left. I like it. Thatís just the way I want it. I have a carrier, a fighter, and a vibrator. Why should I ask for more? Better living through denial. Do whatever you have to, but donít bother me. Iím living happily ever after."

Said and done. Captain Christia "Feuerhexe" Weidlich, XO of the Steel Gunners just ten minutes ago, but no longer, jumped to her feet and stormed out of the room. Her CO, Lt. Colonel Richard, and the WC, Colonel Trebek, looked at each other in silence. Eventually Richard shrugged his shoulders. The only thing he could think of was the word "bitch." Helplessly, he shook his head when he guessed the WCís thoughts about improper conduct and the subsequent disciplinary consequences.

Captain Weidlich got by once again. Outside of the office she crashed into Captain Domitianus waiting in front of the WCís door.

"Back off! Youíre standing in my aura," she hissed sharply to the puzzled Captain who was yet alert for a response. After all, his callsign was "Wise Guy," and it was for a good reason. He was always at the present of his mind, hence able to react-not only with, but commonly accompanied by words. Then one could hear his smartass comments, for the most part made ironically, but often also cynically and sarcastically.

"Well, arenít we just a 'lil ray of fucking sunshine today?"

"Do they ever shut up on your planet?" Weidlich shouted over her shoulder, stomping down the corridor.

"Sarcasm is just one more service we offer," Captain Quintus "Wise Guy" Fabricius Domitianus said after her.

"Captain Domitianus, please come in," he heard the WCís voice. Inside he learned that effective immediately he would be the new XO of the Steel Gunners. What a great honor, sir! he thought.


TCS Valley Forge; Flight Wing Briefing Room
0730 Hours (CST)

Briefing. A great briefing it would be this time. No mission briefing only, but they would be brought up-to-date on the overall situation, too.

2nd Lieutenant Milan Kofol, callsign "Fast Track," was anxiously awaiting it, but unsure as to whether or not he would actually hear the truth. The older pilots of his squad, the ones who had fought in the Kilrathi Wars and through the intense Cynium debacle, had told that far too often those proverbial "Big Briefings" had not told them the true situation. Either vital details had been left out or they had been told nothing but fairy tales indeed. An overall bad situation is never good for the morale of the soldiers to be sent out into the fire, they had said. So those "Big briefings" were an act, providing only minimal real information, but staged more due to politics and psychology, they had said too. In any way, a "Big Briefing" always meant a milestone for the campaign. To "Fast Track" this meant that with every new milestone they were one step closer to conclusion. And he really hoped it would be over soon. He was lucky and happy to still be alive, as were most of his squadron. The veteran pilots had applied much drill prior to and at the beginning of this campaign. Apparently this was paying off now. And though Kofol did not stain his flightsuit anymore he still had that cold sweat on his hands, forehead and on his neck. That sweat that would sometimes be running into his eyes, burning there, but it would always be running down his back and always made him slip in his flight gloves. How he hated that sweat. Always he showered longer than the only five minutes in which they had hot water (then no hot water again for another fifteen minutes).

Vandermann, Schaefer, Trebek, and Coliver entered the briefing room from the OPC. The briefing room was once again packed with all pilots of Forge (except the four White Hopes who were on escort patrol for the time being), all pilots of the Ohlander and the Condor, and even the Cats, some still fumbling with their translation unit, had been brought over.

First Vandermann addressed the pilots. He began in an earnest enough manner, mentioning the success in Nephele in rather empty statistics and figures, then turning things over briefly to Coliver for fascinating yet utterly useless updates regarding the Nephilim and the latest word from Intell on their assumed ultimate intentions/motivations before letting the WC take his place.

Now Colonel Trebek stepped on the podium. "Letís get right to it, pilots. Admiral Hanton has set up a classical hunterís trap. The carriers Valeria, Littenia, and Freedom of Battle Group Valkyrie are acting as bait among the ruins of Loki VIís debris. They draw the three Nephilim carriers present in-system, which are following from Nephele forward to strike at the Combined Fleet. The Yorktown, Endeavour, and the other capship squadrons are flanking around and moving into position on the three Leviathan carriers and their escorts. They will wipe them out. Our concern-our only concern-is the dreadnought."

"Yeah, right! Picture this. This honest-to-goodness Nephilim dreadnought is our only concern. Does the WC believe we really donít read our GIF files on the enemyís technology at all? I mean, itís a fucking dreadnought! Three hundred and some-plus fighters, armed to the teeth and big as a small continentÖ" It was now that Captain Christia "Feuerhexe" Weidlich noticed the frightened gaze of 2nd Lt. Milan "Fast Track" Kofol resting on her. Both eyes wide open, the naked panic she saw in them, his mouth wide open, too. She stopped her muttering instantly. Instead, she started to smile wickedly at "Fast Track," offering, "But hey, we will blow this super-mega-íroach out of space like if it wasÖ ahm, like aÖ ah, well, who the fuck cares. We just kill it, anyway. Donít worry, kid, youíll be all right!" Kofol had his gaze still fixed on her when she turned around to follow the briefing.

"Okay, it is not only a single Tiamat-class dreadnought weíre having to deal with here. There will also be four Orca-class destroyers and three Barracuda-class corvettes around. In addition, latest SWACS sweeps and sensor data gives us more than reason enough to believe that this battle group is spearheaded by a Hydra-class cruiser."

Now there was a significant loud murmur going through the room.

"Okay, okay, pilots -- stop that crap and wait ítill Iím finished, because here comes the vital part. Lieutenant Commander Coliver...?" She looked at the senior Intelligence officer standing next to her, standing with his hands folded in front of him after having been prompted by Vandermann minutes ago.

"Erm, yes." Coliver was caught off-guard in a way he was seldom used to being. Initially the WC wanted to address this part, too. Apparently she had changed her mind, probably believing that his words might actually generate some more sorely-needed confidence in the pilot body. "The Tiamat. Because of this distinctive configuration - the dreadnoughtís battle group falling considerably behind the remaining Nephilim carrier groups -- and because of the battle group having all other ships clearing the way for the dreadnought as well as from all we have seen so far regarding the role of the dreadnoughts... we, in Intelligence, suspect it to be a source of command for the bug fleet in general and most especially for this battle group here in this system. This conclusion is receiving additional support from the fact that we suspect itís low on fighters, fuel, and/or supplies, hence its falling back. This is notable, as all evidence points to the Aliens having been holding little if not nothing back until now."

"Thank you, Lieutenant Commander. You see, folks, it is not that tough of a target any longer." Well, it was a nice try. "Yet we must crack its heavy vanguard first ítill we crack this fucker." Trebek deliberately used such a bad word to sympathize with her men and women, which she truly did, and to speak their language in such a manner that it did not come across as her "talking down" to them, but as an equal that was going to be right out there with them in spirit.

"And this will be the way. The Ohlander and Condor stay behind those involved in the strike to flank the Forge itself; the Nagato and the Shrakíhar are to move in with the fighters against the dreadnought battle group. Nobody is to engage the dreadnought itself before the sub-battle group it has as its vanguard is taken down. Talon Flight, the Lancers, the Krahnakhs, and the Dakhaths are to engage and eliminate the Hydra-class cruiser. Ronin, your Aztecs are to fly cover for those squadrons, making the direct assault on the Hydra and provide SEAD. The Nagato and the Shrakíhar, too, are to concentrate their fire on the Hydra first and foremost at this point. All other capships are secondary here and the other fighter squadrons should be tying up, routing, and taking out the enemyís fighter support. As you can expect, you will find the details of your individual objectives and whatever priorities may pertain to them on your ICIS, but before you do go over them thereís some key points Iíd like to stress beforehand.

"All right, to break it down some... the Mosquitoes and the White Hopes, as well as Tigersharks from the Ohlander are principally to concentrate on the Morays, Mantas, Ray/Remoras, Squids, Lamprey, and Skates. The Fire Balls and an element comprising most of the Steel Gunners are to take care of the Devil Rays and Stingrays and keep them away from the Forge... this, please understand, being at all costs by any and all means!" The last words she stressed particularly. Pained, that was, but she had to put the accent on it.


TCS Valley Forge; Command Ready Room
0742 Hours (CST)

"What are you doing here?" the WC addressed Major Burdock upon entering of the room.

"What? WellÖ ahm, to brief my squadron" he began, realizing his error too late.

"Oh, no, Burdock. It is not yours to do so anymore. Remember? I took you off to think and to make a decision -- youíre the Executive Officer until further notice, and you have not given me an answer yet. And if this is going to be the answer now, then take it for sure that I do not accept it. Not now and not like this."

Damn it, gimme a break, Burdock thought wearily. She acts as if I really have a choice, another option, a way out. But there is no way out, other than through. Burdock could not step down. What would his pilots think? What would the others think? No one would still have one ounce of respect for him. He would be a shame for the 71st FW and even more if he were to run away and totally leave the Hopes, the Forge, and CVBG-A behind him. Ridiculous, he mused. As if this was possible. He probably faced court-martial, then. What a shame for his family and the Marshall family who always had him backed up. "Dishonorable Discharge" from military service would be the best-case scenario. It was not unlikely that they would also review his role in the Black Lance Incident under the new point of view and that their interpretation of it would be a new, an opposite one. Whatever the outcome would be for his family, which business depended on good personal relationships with military officers in certain positions, it could have severe consequences. Recently East-West Technology had gone out empty in a 350 million credit bid for the Hades Project. So what choice did he really have?

"See, Burdock, I need stable and reliable squadron commanders out there. Men and women who know exactly what they do, why they do it, and what their responsibility is." Trebek made a short pause before continuing, "You may think that we cannot afford a luxury like this right now and that we need every man. You may be right. Another wing commander may have had decided differently. I, too, had done before. But until now I lost half of my wing and we are only half through the campaign as is was originally planned. You and I know damn well that no plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy. So far it has gone well. But nobody know what the Nephilim still have to throw at us or what their next move will be. And if it all ends in Nifelheim or if it ends well. The wingís effective combat strength is way below the amount of pilots I count still on the roster. Only every one of three is in what I would call combat readiness. All the more I am in desperate need for COs who are fit, on top of the situation and able to hold the wing together and to motivate my men to carry on. COís with the right attitude."

She laid her right hand on Burdock left shoulder. "Bugfix" she called him now and had to smile when pronouncing his callsign. "When making your decision, donít do it with your gut nor do it with your head. Know why? You should. Officers who allow themselves to be guided by their gut take too high risks. They waste themselves and their squadrons alike for motives, however honorable or understandable they may be, like hate, revenge, fame, and glory among others. They are obsessed and they will die sooner than later and take down everyone around. Whereas men who only decide with their heads risk too little, fly with too little passion, give in too early and are generally too remote towards the price, the victims, of any achieved or even failed missions."

"But howÖ" startled a puzzled Burdock, who only rarely happened to see his Wing Commander emotional.

The WCís hand slipped down from his shoulder. "From here you have to decide." She gently punched against his chest forming a fist, indicating that she meant the heart.

Burdock looked down at himself. "You mean from the name tag?" he asked, deliberately dumbfounded.

"No, DUROK! From the heart!" Trebek shot back, annoyed and thankful at the same time.

"Now, would you please leave and let Hartmann do the job! You are not the White Hopesí commanding officer as it stands... not for now. Make your decision and then tell me."

Burdock nodded quietly and turned.

"And..." she began to speak, stopping herself when the Major looked back, "... you can join me on the bridge in a few minutes if you like, Major. Your point of view might be appreciated."



TCS Valley Forge; Bridge
0800 Hours (CST)

The operations for the mission ahead were already underway when Major Burdock stepped onto the bridge, already clad in his flightsuit and ready to take flight. Commander Schaefer had protested sharply at the pilotís site, though Burdock had not expected anything less from him. Colonel Trebek had intervened and Captain Vandermann, who appeared all calm and collected this day, had finally granted permission for Burdock to enter the bridge.

The bridge was busy like a hive of bees. There was even the constant humming, that of the ship and the dozen machines and instruments it was. Never before the Major had been on a bridge during a battle. Every single one of the many consoles of which Burdock only understood half of at best was manned with a member of the bridge staff with a face very down to business. The XO was standing next to the navigation console and near to the helm. The Captain and the WC were standing around the Tri-D holoprojector which displayed the current situation outside in real-time. The tactical main comm channel was put on-speaker to tell of the operationís progress in addition to what was displayed on the holoprojector, which was fed by the tactical database that collected all incoming data.

"DDT Lead, weíre in position now. Moving forward," the report of Major Rai, element leader of the Aztecsí DDT wing that was to move in together with the two Cat squadrons to take out all turrets of that Hydra, rang from all loudspeakers.

"Deadbolt, moving in!" That was Kal Shintahr Jhathar nar Vukar Tag, CO of the "Dakhath" Squadron. Only an instant later the other cat was in position and closing in on the Hydra.

"Long range scans are pick up multiple contacts," reported Lieutenant Anderson of tactical, hovering over the long range displays of the sensor console. "Theyíre launching fighters. Source still out of range. Probably out of the shadow of the cruiser."

Without SWACS close in, that was as much as they could know. "Gamma Lead, I got multiple bogeys inbound here!" acknowledged Lieutenant Colonel Richard, only a second after Andersonís report. Richardís squad had been assigned to the upper right section of the outer defense perimeter laid around the Forge as they had to pick up the much feared Devil Rays. The other outer defense zones were given to the two Fire Balls elements, designated Tau and Mu, as well as the remaining two Steel Gunner elements, Green and Blue.

The lift doors hissed open and Lieutenant Commander Ethan Coliver rushed in. As soon as he started to make his way to the holoprojector he informed them under his breath, "All right, I completed the last Intell reports on the dreadnought and cleared them for the upload into the tactical database. It is indeed as I told-itís low on fighters and supplies."

Upon hearing this, the Wing Commander lifted an eyebrow. "Completed? Does that mean that in the briefing before you didnítÖ"

With a wave of his hand and a tired smile Coliver cut her short. "Just trust me. Iíve been in this line of work long enough to know every intricacy of what Iím talking about. If you had a notion of how often we have to work withÖ" This time he interrupted himself with a shaking of his head and yet another wave of his hand, "... practically non-existent information," he had meant to say. A discussion would lead nowhere now and it was best for her not to know and for him otherwise simply not to tell. "Just donít interfere with the way I do my job."

Vandermann nodded to both in approval of Coliver and ordered Schaefer to begin the upload of Coliverís data.



F-106A Piranha 001 [ Alpha Lead ]
0822 Hours (CST)

"Go, go, go!"

Not the most creative of battle cries, but it had its desired effect on the squadronmates of Major Kirk "Coroner" Powell. Pep talk hadnít been working, and he wasnít the type of squadron commander to give it anyway. Still... with a Tiamat dreadnought and one of the same Hydra cruisers that nearly did in the Forge in one of their previous engagements lying in plain sight dead ahead of all parties present (to say nothing of the equally-in-plain-sight Orcas and Barracudas that loomed on stand-by, the whole enemy battle group package protected by god knows how many hundreds of xeno fighters), somehow the Mosquitoes CO felt some kind of motivational pep talk might be actually in order this once. "Kill íburners on my mark... three... two... one... mark!"

As each squadron-as planned and laid out by the WC and the rest of the CVBG-A brass-Powellís seven Mosquitoes, the White Hopes and Bloodfang B Mk2s from the furriesí Krahnakhs ("Unseen") Squadron, and the TCS Ohlanderís six Tigersharks rushed forth and plunged headlong into the battle scene basically in some rough idea of tandem. When a certain point was reached, each squadronís individual wingmen and wingleaders broke up and "did their own thing" based on their respective COís instructions on targets and objectives within the missionís word-of-god objectives. The overall goal for these four groups seemed simple enough-arrive at the scene and do some cleanup duty... keep all the Nephilim medium fighters and interceptors at bay while ultimately going after two of the three Orca-class destroyers ahead. The actual task of taking out the Orcas was left strictly to the Cats flying the bombers in the "Krahnakhs," which under normal circumstances-particularly given Powellís colorful personal history, prejudice, and justifiable misgivings about the Kilrathi in general-might make Powell or his squad a bit steamed that a furball would be getting the glory... but then he remembered the battle they were looking at, and there was just no ignoring the demonically ominous outline of that Tiamat-class monstrosity only growing larger in the distance by the second. Given all the odds, even Powell had to stand back and feel some sense of gratitude that his squadron would be spared the capship-tackling responsibilities.

Hey, Major Powell mentally figured, better the fuckiní Cats than my squad, or any other God-feariní Terran for that matter. They want to go risking their furry asses for the glory of Sivar or whatever, no prob... no sweat off my balls. Not a bit.

"You go into the blackness!" cackled the insectoid-toned voice of a miscellaneous Nephilim feeling gutsy. While also having an insurmountable advantage in numbers (while maybe not strategy, but nobodyís perfect), Powell had to grant that the Aliens did have guts. The Kilrathi, when they had been the enemy, would fight the Confederation even when they knew their struggle was in vain; for honor, for the Glory of Kilrah and the War-God Sivar! The Nephilimís grim relentlessness was no less intense, if not more so... though it came from a different, perhaps deeper-seated motivation. What it was that drove them, who knew? Merely fighting in the name of "The Mother Creature," whatever or whoever that was? The self-righteousness of carrying out some kind of fanatical genetic cleansing they decided to take to the Confederationís side of the galaxy? Whatever it was, they kept it tight-mandibled thus far, though the bugs made no effort to hide their hatred of anything human, Kilrathi, Firekkan, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Tortoise that stood in their way, gleefully fighting ítill the last breath... even if it was their own.

No P.O.Ws from their side of the fence, no defectors, no turncoats selling out their kind, no surrendering... as any nameless, faceless Nephilim would gladly proclaim with grave assurance in the cockpit vidcomm with their dying breath, "The Mother Creature will avenge me," right? At least with the Cats they had known to some degree what made them tick, and one could almost admire them for it; the bugs, they had no ideas what made them tick, but one couldnít help but wonder if whatever fueled their fanatic drive was something to be admired or feared. Confed hadnít faced an enemy like that since the first human-versus-alien conflict with the enigmatic Yan in the 23rd century, and when that conflict was said and done Intell and scholarly historians alike were only left with more questions than any that might have been answered.

Even as xeno targets-Mantas, Squids, and Skates from the initial clashes he could see at this early point in what was sure to be a long, exhausting, probably bloody mÍlťe-were engaged and Powellís men began exchanging fire with the enemy, the Major came to a somewhat matter-of-fact conclusion. He considered that within the grand scheme of the 71st FWís mission ahead, the strike, the 722nd Mosquitoes had to count themselves as one of the lucky few so far.

"Lucky few"... yeah, small comfort.



F/A-105A Tigershark 101 [ Sky Raider Lead ]
0828 Hours (CST)

"Three bogeys inbound!" announced 2nd Lt. Kyra "Moonlight" van de Frost over the comm.

"Affirmative!" acknowledged Major Paul "Kraut" Hartmann. He could only help but take a liking to the new rank he had achieved all too quickly (he had been promoted to Captain only five days ago) despite the fact that it was only temporary until Major Burdock was back in the COís spot. He opened the squadronís main channel, "Sky Raider Lead here-weíre in the game now, too. Hopes, stay sharp!"

"Great, a breakthrough. Damn it," Lieutenant Ridgely cursed.

"Cheer up, Yeti! It had to happen sooner or later," Lt. "2Pack" Dukovski cued in. "Itís party time now. Boom, boom, boom, boom, I got you in my zoom. Letís kill the bugs together from now until foreverÖ" Dukovski was singing.

"Bandit Lead, cut the crap, 2Pack!" Captain Pinto ordered her wingman back to composure.


TCS Valley Forge; Bridge
0831 Hours (CST)

"Wingman down, wingman downÖ"

"Put the squadron command channel on the speaker!" the WC bellowed at the comm officer, Lieutenant JG St. Germain. Colonel Trebek was tense now, any around her could see that. There were, it was had become clear, now several breaches in the outer defense perimeter.

"Oh, scheisse mann, scheisse, scheisseÖ" could be heard all over the bridge, the comm chatter on the White Hopesí frequency. The WC rolled her eyes. Come to the point, she swore.

"That Devil Ray got Schmidt! He never saw it coming. That bastard flew right through him, out of nowhere," Green Four, 2nd Lt. "Guts" Kiechel, cried over the comm channel the bridge had on-speaker. So heavily, in fact, that it made Burdock wonder where he got his callsign from.

"Green Lead, all right, boy," spoke the "Wise Guy" Steel Gunner. "Calm down. Take up position on Green Fiveís wing. Youíll be his wingman now."

"Blue Lead, Green Three, do you copy? Whereíd that fucker go?"

"Green Three here... donít know. He disappeared into where he came from... nothing. Afraid he slipped by..."


F/A-105A Tigershark 101 [ Sky Raider Lead ]
0832 Hours (CST)

"Sky Raider Four, more hostiles inbound. I count one Devil Ray," van de Frost announced some more unpleasant news.

"Oh, Moonlight, fucking stop that," "Yeti" Ridgely pled, as if it was her fault. It was stupid and Kraut knew he should know that, but he was in no good shape today and he felt very uncomfortable, too.

"Sky Raider Lead here, I take that one personally! Yeti, youíre with me. Come on, friend," Hartmann was quick to speak up.

"Aye, aye, sir!"

Moments later Hartmann felt fooled where did it go? "Do you have him, Yeti?" he inquired.


"Does anyone have him?"

Four quiet seconds elapsed, seemingly taking ages to pass. Then an answer.

"Yep, got it." Suddenly Yeti broke of his wing and rushed past him on íburners.

"Where is it?" Superfluous to ask.

"It got me, itís right on my ass!" A short look confirmed the obvious. On his low five, Hartmann spotted his wingman shaking and rolling like mad to free himself from his follower.

"Kraut, somebody, get this fucker off me!" Yeti yelled in panic.

The Devil Rays were much feared. With some pilots only the mentioning of the name of these space superiority fighters made them turn pale and quiet. The fear resulted from two hard facts. Fact #1 : the Devil Ray was by far the best fighter the bugs had. It was the fastest, most agile, with the thickest armor and the strongest shields. Fact #2 : it was flown by the most proficient of the Nephilim pilots. Capable of all known maneuvers, and even some unknown, it was said, but no one ever survived them to be able to really tell. They make extensive use of decoys when followed by missiles.

For Kraut, they always were a challenge.

Hartmann moved the stick forward and dived, then turned slightly right to have the Devil Ray pass into view as slowly and steadily as possible. When in range he opened up with all his Ion Cannons. The Devil Ray and its pilot didnít seem impressed. The bastard knew he could stand quite a bit of those Ion Cannons. He could power up his shields recharge rate to that of Krautís Ion Cannons, which would make it impossible for Kraut to destroy it. Even without that it would take too long to bring him down with ion cannons only. Too long for Yeti to wait. When the Devil Rayís shields began to glow orange it was past and Kraut had to fall behind it. He immediately activated the Javelin heat-seeker.

Ah, that oldie he loved so much...

The blinking targeting reticule that danced all over his HUD until it got the final lock. The dumbfire warheads from his rocket pod underneath could not be fooled by the Devil Ray. The risk, though a calculated one, was that one of them could run into Yeti, now that he was behind the two. The lock klaxon sounded and off he let it go. His baby.

"Fox one!"

Immediately the second missileís reticule started dancing on his HUD. The first missile exploded in a big white ball. Not big enough. The bug got away. Hartmann checked the damage report. Shit, barely a light yellow he could make out at its rear section. The Devil Ray disappeared out of his field of vision. Both fighters before him went into a fish hook. The split seconds it had taken Hartmann to watch the Devil Rayís damage status were used to fall into the fish hook maneuver simultaneously. He got both fighters in view again only after completing the hook. A challenge indeed, he pondered.

"How are you holding up, Yeti?"

"Dead, dead, man. Iím a dead man flying. Oh, if he does not kill me I will kill you for making me go through this... Christ, I just stained my damn suit, Kraut. Get it done!" Yeti shouted into his headset.

Thatís right, never losing your sense of humor, Hartmann thought, somewhat relieved in at knowing at least that.

"On my mark youíll start rolling and pull sharp upper left. Letís see if we find him dumbfounded." Hartmann had already switched to his unguided rockets - hence referred to as dumb, not unlike the traditional Dart Dumbfires -- and was smiling a little complacent over his play of words when Yeti pulled him all back into the seriousness of the situation at hand.

"Lock! He's got lock on me!!"

"Pull up now." Yeti did not pull up right away. Hartmann started yelling, "Pull up, pull up, pull up, man. Pull up, you stupid, stubborn son of a bitch!" He could see Yeti emerging on top from behind the Devil Ray, pulling up and falling into a roll. Much too slowly or so it seemed. A moment later there was a fierce light, a cloud he was racing through, debris impacting on his fore shields. Still in that cloud Hartmann pressed the trigger wildly and released a series of rockets. Emerging from the cloud he found only the Devil Ray speeding away. He checked its damage status. Its left side which had been orange was blood red, rear shields were gone, but starting to recharge quickly, rear section glowed in a rich, dark orange.

"You are mine! You know that? Wickser? Ja? You know that? You are mine! I bring you down!" He was not himself anymore, and he didnít even realize it.

Switching to afterburners, he released a couple more unguided rockets. The Devil Ray evaded them all and ran on their equivalent to afterburners now, too. Hartmann could not match the bugís speed. Hartmann could not realize the fact...


TCS Valley Forge; Bridge
0837 Hours (CST)

Trebek made a worried look after hearing Hartmann, who seemed fast on his way to losing it. Deep in thought, she was. Probably, she was arguing with herself over if she had been right about her decision about Hartmann and me, Major Burdock sensed.

"Wickser?" Coliver inquired. Burdock absent-mindedly looked from Trebek to Coliver to Trebek. Turning to Coliver yet again he answered, "Itís German. Something like Ďfucker.í"

To Trebek he turned with a sudden sense of urgency, "I had better be going."

Trebek only nodded. Burdock looked at Vandermann. He, too, nodded somewhat fatherly, "Hold the line out there. Good hunting, Major Burdock."

Burdock gave a short, but sharp salute and then made a dash for the lift.