The Blast of War

The Blast of War
?Boxer, this is flight control. The pattern is full; maintain current heading and set throttle to one-niner-zero.?

?Copy that Lincoln, one-niner-zero.?

Lieutenant Erica ?Boxer? Swanson reached out to the cockpit console and pressed the button which would lock in her heading. Sitting back in her seat, she slid the throttle lever on her left slowly back until the display on the console counted down to read 190 mps. With the flick of a switch above her head she turned off her electron shielding, noting the flicker of a greenish light outside her cockpit as the shielding dispersed.
The Lieutenant then twisted in her seat to look over her shoulder at the hulk of a space cruiser behind her, the Abraham Lincoln. Slowly the larger ship moved towards her small fighter, swallowing it whole in the gaping hanger bay in its belly. Swanson heard a slight thump as flight crews pulled the fighter down into its docking bay via guidewires. She reached over and disengaged her thrusters and keyed the code to power down her engines and inertial dampener.

?Boxer is down, I?m locked in. Over and out.?

The lieutenant reached over and flipped off the comm system even as the docking bay gave a slight lurch sideways, pulling her fighter through the airlock and into her fighter?s docking station. Automatically, the cockpit began to open and the fighter?s computer powered down as the flight crew took control of the plane.

Lieutenant Swanson unbuckled her harness and slipped out of the cockpit, unstrapping and removing her helmet as she climbed down the eight foot ladder to the flight deck. With a nod to the crew chief, Erica slipped her helmet under her arm and began to weave her way through the crowd of deck crews rushing around securing the fighters.

She stepped into the lift on the far side of the flight deck, nodding silently to the other pilot already there. The lift doors slid shut silently and the lift began to move through the cruiser.

Erica looked over at the other pilot. ?Well Spinner, welcome to war.?

Lieutenant Don ?Spinner? Collins turned and studied her for a moment.

?I think I liked boredom better.?

The Colonel stepped up to the podium and gazed around at the assembled pilots. In a booming voice not needing the assistance from the podium microphone, he began to speak.

?Well boys and girls, today has been our trial by fire. While we were out there mixing it up, the Captain received a transmission from Earth via first class stiletto courier. It?s official now. The United Nations Congress has declared war on the self-proclaimed Pandora Confederation of Worlds as of about 16 hours ago.

?As to more local events?. Congratulations on a successful mission. There will be funeral services for your comrade Captain Alexander Petrenko at 1600 hours today. We are all grieved at Lightning?s death, but we must remain vigilant; consider yourselves at yellow alert and be ready to scramble at a moment?s notice for the next ten hours. If you need to get some sleep, do so but do it in your flight gear.?

Colonel Damian Bachmann paused and glanced down at the podium upon hearing a beep from his personal comm link at his belt. Pressing a few keys on the podium computer he brought up the message in text form. The Colonel looked back up at the pilots.

?For your information, Lieutenant Allison Macmillan has been retrieved by Search And Rescue and is in perfect condition. The sar pod will be docking shortly. Additionally, Flatline managed to land his fighter without further damage and should be released from medbay within the hour with minor leg wounds. Both pilots will be staying on the flight roster assuming we have functioning fighters for them.?

?I?m not going to bother going over tactics and maneuvers for this combat. We faced some damn talented pilots out there in our own fighters and still succeeded in the mission. The stolen cruiser the Julius Caesar has been destroyed with all hands and few of their fighters will be combat-worthy anytime soon, assuming they even make it back to pcw friendlies. The losses to our side have been heavy? but Captain Petrenko?s sacrifice will not be in vain.?

The Colonel paused for a moment, looking down at the podium in a vain attempt hide the fact that he was obviously strongly affected by their friend?s death.

?We?re going to be in enemy-controlled territory for the next several days. Don?t worry about your paperwork during this time; I want you getting some rest and getting in top condition for combat. We?ll be meeting up with the uns James Winchester in a few hours to begin to form a battlegroup. Admiral Larson is on board the Winchester and will be taking command of the fleet movements in this system. Let?s get some rest and get ready to end this war before it gets a chance to get going. Dismissed.?

The eight pilots sitting in the debriefing looked around at each other and slowly got up and headed out of the room. Colonel Bachmann watched silently as they left and then turned back to the podium and began keying up information on the recent battle.

?So? Tell me Major, what do we do now?? Lieutenant Swanson sipped at her drink, staring across the table at her wing commander, Major Jennifer ?Nails? Blokh. The Major, a lithe, anorexic-looking woman, looked up at Swanson?s athletic frame and then back down at the table. If anyone overlooked the rank insignia pinned on their collars, he or she would think from the scene that the Major was intimidated by Erica. She was not.

?I?m afraid I don?t understand the question,? Nails said cautiously. ?We do as Colonel Bachmann said, get some rest and be ready to scramble.?

Erica continued to study Major Blokh as if her eyes could bore holes into her commander?s head. She opened her mouth as if in response, but held back any reply for a moment.

?Yeah. I guess we do.?

?So? Tell me Major, what do we do now?? Lieutenant Swanson sipped at her drink, staring across the table at her wing commander, Major Jennifer ?Nails? Blokh. The Major, a lithe, anorexic-looking woman, looked up at Swanson?s athletic frame and then back down at the table. If anyone overlooked the rank insignia pinned on their collars, he or she would think from the scene that the Major was intimidated by Erica. She was not.

?I?m afraid I don?t understand the question,? Nails said cautiously. ?We do as Colonel Bachmann said, get some rest and be ready to scramble.?

Erica continued to study Major Blokh as if her eyes could bore holes into her commander?s head. She opened her mouth as if in response, but held back any reply for a moment.

?Yeah. I guess we do.?

A steel tray clattered down across from Major Blokh, followed closely by the body of her wingman, Spinner.

?Lieutenant Collins,? sighed the Major, ?One of these days I am going to teach you the art of moving without making enough noise to wake the dead.?

?Yeah, sure, right.? Lieutenant Collins slid his chair in to the table with a horrible scraping sound. Picking up his fork with a clatter, Spinner dug into a dish which looked about as appetizing as his left combat boot. He took a bite and looked up at the other two pilots. ?So? what do we do now??

Major Blokh looked over at Lieutenant Swanson and rolled her eyes. Erica grinned back, unable to hide her laughter.

?Seems to be the question of the day,? Nails said, raising an eyebrow at Erica.

Erica looked back at Don Collins as he chewed away on something rubbery. ?I?m afraid we don?t understand the question,? she said mockingly. The resulting glare from her wing commander was not pretty.

?Well,? said Spinner, between bites, ?we?re at war now, right? But why? I mean? the pcw guys have a point, right??

A voice responded from the next table. The fourth member of Major Blokh?s unit, Captain David ?Sleaze? Peterson, was sitting alone against the wall, sipping at his coffee. ?They do indeed. The Pandora Confederation of Worlds is comprised of those planets which the UN abuses and rapes for the benefit of the rest of us. However, they do seem to forget that they too are simply UN citizens who have decided to settle there for their own purposes.?

Erica laughed. ?That?s the long and the short of it, eh Dave??

Sleaze grinned and gave a short bow from his seated position. ?Always glad to offer my learned insight, milady.? He then returned to sipping his coffee and reading a hardcopy of a magazine he?d managed to find somewhere. Erica smiled and turned back to the Spinner. If the gentlemanly Captain weren?t already married to an architect back on Earth, she?d certainly be interested in pursuing him romantically, regardless of the fact that he was her wingleader and a rank above her.

?Okay,? said Spinner, ?So then, who?s the good guys? Us or them? I mean, why do we care so much that we won?t let them go anyway??

Major Blokh sighed and looked at Erica, shaking her head. She turned back to Spinner and leaned back in her chair. ?Don, don?t you ever read??

?Jennifer, be nice? Erica interjected. ?He?s not any less informed than half the whole UN.?

The Major leaned forward with a glance at Boxer, resting her elbows on the table. ?Okay? let?s see? you know how an inertial dampener works, right?? Spinner nodded, taking another bite of his leathery meal. ?Okay, and you know how an electron shield projector works?? Spinner nodded again, looking a little confused. ?So what?s the one thing both have in common??

The Lieutenant swallowed and looked from Nails to Boxer and back again. ?I have no idea.?

?Diamonds.? Spoke up Erica. ?They both need perfect-quality natural diamonds to focus the laser splitter.?

The Major nodded in agreement and continued. ?So, the problem is? there are only a couple places that can provide enough diamonds of a large enough size for the number of ID?s and shields we need for travel. Man-made diamonds can?t be produced rapidly enough with the right quality to even touch the demand. Only one planet has a freaky enough composition to provide those diamonds. Pandora?s mass and nearly-pure carbon composition make it the primary source for all the diamonds we need in space travel.?

Spinner stopped chewing and raised his fork in question. ?You mean to tell me that one planet in this whole damn explored universe actually keeps every ship and fighter in the fleet from being torn apart??

?Not only that,? responded Boxer, ?But all the civilian craft as well. You can?t even go as fast as a fighter, much less at faster-than-light speeds, without an ID. You?d be squished by the inertia.?

Spinner groaned. ?Remind me to pay attention next time I have a physics class.?

?So, anyway,? continued Nails, ?the UN hasn?t exactly been fair about the use of those diamonds. Why do you think we have all those shipyards and stations around the Pandora system? The important materials are all nearby. The problem is, all that military needs support, and the colonists were getting stepped on by all our people. Not to mention that the taxes the Senate exacts on the diamonds are killing them, and the taxes keep going up.?

?Jennifer,? asked Boxer interestedly, ?Out of curiosity, what was your major in college??

?Political Science. Can you tell?? Major Blokh winked at Erica and turned back to Spinner. ?So, the pcw formed at first as a lobbying coalition. But the senate ignored them, and so they evenutally decided to break off. Unfortunately, they did it by that first attack on all the Pandora-system bases and shipyards. That pissed off the senate and the unsf a bit, so now we?re at war.?

?I am SO out of the loop on this stuff.? Lieutenant Collins scratched his head and adjusted his uniform. ?So, it sounds to me like we?re the bad guys and the pcw is just a little over-excited.?

?Well, not entirely. For one thing, the pcw is already extremely wealthy. And if they?d just seceded like New Tibet did back on Io, they might be okay. But instead they attacked our shipyards and stations and killed or captured almost a fourth of our SF forces.?

?However,? said Erica, ?We?re certainly not without fault. It?s really kind of a crappy situation. Makes you wonder whether the whole duty and honor thing really makes that much sense, when our leaders don?t follow the same ideals. The senate is getting pretty elitist if you ask me.? Spinner nodded in agreement or simply pretended understanding and went back to munching on his rations.

Major Blokh looked up suddenly at someone who had just walked up behind Spinner. She set down her drink and continued to stare at the newcomer as the two Lieutenants turned to discover their Squadron Executive Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Lisa ?Sweets? Hong. The callsign was an ironic one; this gentle-looking Chinese woman was second-in-command of the squadron and was never kind or sweet to anyone under her authority. The other pilots respected the Lieutenant Colonel for only two reasons; her rank and her undeniable talent as a combat pilot and strategist. When not in the planes, even her own wingman tended to avoid her.

?I might suggest, Major, that you do not encourage such talk among the younger officers,? droned Sweets. ?Such words might be taken wrong. Defending the so-called Pandora Confederation is hardly a fit past time for officers in the United Nations.?

Boxer and Spinner exchanged glances, rolling their eyes. Though Sweets had rank over Nails, she was actually younger than the Major and only a few months older than Spinner, who had joined unsf later in life.

?Sir,? began Major Blokh ?We were merely discussing the politics of the current situation. I hardly think any of us are planning on supporting the Pandora Confederation colonists.?

?The pcw dogs do not deserve your empathy, Major,? replied Sweets. ?The unappreciative defectors have committed crimes against humanity and will be rightfully punished.?

Jennifer smiled wryly. ?Yes sir.? She cringed and gave a quick glance to the two Lieutenants as Sweets pulled up a chair and proceeded to sit down next to Spinner. Erica quickly downed the last remnants of her drink.

?Well, on that note,? Erica began as she stood up, ?I think I?m off to get some rest.? Spinner looked up at her with envy; his meal was obviously nowhere near done and he was not going to be able to slip out with such ease.

?Keep your strength up Lieutenant,? Sweets replied.

?I will sir.? Boxer quickly made her retreat, stopping just long enough to drop her glass in the cleaning bin on her way out the door. Nails and Spinner looked longingly after her and then went back to their ?conversation? with the Lieutenant Colonel.

?We are gathered here today to say farewell to a friend and a soldier.? Colonel Damian Bachmann looked up at the pilots and crew assembled on the flight deck. Except the skeleton crew of seven currently running the cruiser, all fifty-one remaining personnel were together to give a send-off to the fifty-second. ?Captain Alexander Petrenko was a pilot, a soldier, and a man. It is the man we will miss.?

The Colonel paused, taking a deep breath. Each of those men there watching him were looking at him for the strength to get on with their lives. Even the Ship?s Captain, Commander Nauman, was here looking to him for support. Captain Petrenko had been a very close friend of many on board the Lincoln, not the least of them Colonel Bachmann himself.

??Hockey? was a friend to many of us. His cheerful attitude and optimistic outlook on life helped us all face the world a little more comfortably. If he wasn?t in the cockpit, we always knew we could find him cheering up a depressed friend. If there wasn?t a game on, of course. He always knew his priorities. " A few smiles appeared among the ranks, fitting tribute for the kind of man Captain Petrenko had been. ?Today, we say goodbye to this man we all loved. He was the first to give his life for the United Nations in this war, and he will likely not be the last. His death shall not be in vain, for we shall fight on in his remembrance.?

Colonel Bachmann reached down to the podium and opened up the silver case sitting there. He lifted the case to display the Purple Heart and Cross of Honour contained therein. ?To Captain Alexander Petrenko, the United Nations Space Forces awards posthumously the Purple Heart for his great sacrifice for his people, and the Cross of Honour for his valiant and honourable efforts in going above and beyond his duty as a soldier of the United Nations.? The Colonel walked over to the empty steel coffin and placed the awards in a small recess. He paused and looked back out at the gathered crew. ?And with him we send his most prized posession.?

The Colonel smiled slightly and returned to the podium, where he picked up the red hockey puck signed by unhl All-Star Joey Laughlin. He moved back to set it next to the awards, then pressed a button on the side of the coffin which sealed the items inside.

?May your spirit fly forever free Alex.? The Colonel snapped to attention and saluted the coffin.

?Salute!? shouted Commander Nauman. ?Honour Guard, present arms!? The three security officers stepped out of line, rifles at the ready. ?Fire!? The officers fired the guns together, the charges absorbing into the electron shielding set up for that purpose. Seven times the shots rang out, echoing in the otherwise silent flight deck.

With a push of a button at the podium, the Colonel sent the coffin sliding forward on its track into the airlock. The door sounded a quiet swish as it sealed the coffin in. The Colonel pressed another button and the assembled personnel watched through the porthole as the coffin was sucked out into the vacuum.

As the Colonel turned to say a last word and dismiss the crew, he was interrupted by a loud alarm and flashing red lights. ?Attention, Attention. We are under attack,? came the voice of Captain Nauman?s first officer over the comm system. ?This is not a drill. Immediate full scramble. All personnel to battlestations.?

The Colonel looked up at the men, none of whom had moved. ?You heard him. Dismissed. Let?s get out there.?

Immediate chaos ensued as every man there went running for their station, the pilots heading to the ready room to get their flight gear while the deck crew prepared the planes and the cruiser?s staff headed for battle stations.

* *
Erica felt the clamps disengage and the lurch of the fighter floating up from the hangar deck. With a few keystrokes on the console, she engaged the inertial dampeners.

?Boxer, green light,? came a voice from flight control. Lieutenant Swanson slammed forward the throttle to full speed and reached up to flip on the electron shields as she rocketed out of the hangar bay.

Immediately she was engaged in the battle. Ahead of her an F-1706 Scorpion heavy fighter turned from its attack on the Lincoln to focus on her; nearby she could see one of her own team?s Diamondbacks engaged with another heavy fighter.

The fighter ahead of her opened fire, letting loose a barrage of charged Hydrogen blasts from the Scorpion?s Particle Accelerator Cannons. Erica jinked the fighter around, weaving through the barrage and wincing as she watched the connecting shots weaken her shields. She responded with her own blast, but both fighters blew past one another without having weakened the other?s shielding significantly.

?Boxer, target is Scorpion ID 3,? came the call from Sleaze, Erica?s wingleader. ?Follow me in, bottoms up.?

?Copy that,? the Lieutenant replied, calmly rolling her fighter and moving in close to Sleaze?s Diamondback. As one unit, inverted together with their cockpits only a dozen meters apart, they moved in behind the Scorpion which was slowly coming around for another pass at Boxer. Erica felt fortunate that the heavier fighters were so difficult to maneuver for the lesser experienced pcw pilots. A UN ace would easily have flipped the Scorpion around too quickly for the two Diamondbacks to move into position, despite the extra inertia created by the greater mass of the large fighter.

Together, Boxer and Sleaze blasted up close behind the heavy fighter and opened fire. The pcw pilot responded quickly to the hail of gunfire, turning hard and decelerating. Even as he broke off, however, the UN pilots broke off as well, Boxer shooting off below and to the right of the Scorpion while Sleaze flew up to the left. The maneuver effectively pinned the enemy fighter between the two; the sustained barrage from Boxer?s cannons quickly tore a hole in the fighter?s shielding even as it escaped the Captain?s gunfire. The blasts shot through the temporary dent in the shielding and tore into the fighter with a vengeance, minor explosions going off on impact. An ejected pilot rocketed away in his sealed flight suit even as the Scorpion burst in a ball of quickly-extinguished flame.

?Knocked out and down for the count,? Boxer reported. ?Round two.?

?Lend me a hand love!? came the excited reply. At a glance, Erica took in the situation: two Scorpions had managed to pin down Sleaze?s fighter, which was engaged defensive. Though less maneuverable, the heavy fighters had more guns with which to tear through the Diamondback?s less-powerful shields, and two on one was tough odds for any pilot. Erica moved to assist, but these pcw pilots were pretty good, and by the time she could get a few shots off on one of the Scorpions, it was too late. She watched with rage as Captain Petersen?s fighter burst into thousands of pieces. She couldn?t tell if Sleaze had ejected in time, and had no time to look around as the two Scorpions changed targets to focus on her.

(The battle continues with several losses, but the Lincoln is undamaged and the remaining pilots land their fighters.Sleaze is rescued by sar but in critical condition. Flatline is killed and Allison ?Spunky? Macmillan is also severely injured.)

* *
3012.205.00:02 Brighton System, Pandora Sector.

The Next Day.

?All right pilots, magnum launch in five minutes,? announced Colonel Damian Bachmann. ?We know that whatever killed the Winchester is out in this system somewhere, possibly even on the borders of this sector. Your navigations computer has your flight plans keyed in for full patrols in your wings. Boxer, you will be on my wing. Bullhorn will be on Sleeper?s wing and everyone else in your normal units. Dismissed.?

The pilots got up and headed for the flight deck. In minutes, Lieutenant Swanson was in the air and moved into position on Colonel Bachmann?s wing. She flipped on the comm switch.

?Basket, this is Boxer. In formation and ready when you are.?

?The navigational data is already in your computer. Set course for nav point one and engage autopilot. We?ve got a ways to go, keep watch on your long-range.?

Erica keyed in the instructions and set her fighter to autopilot, watching the plane shift slightly as it moved towards the navigation point. She set her scanners to long-range and punched in the code which would sound an alarm if her radar detected anything. The console readout told her she had forty minutes to the first navigation point and she sat back to wait it out.

* *
Distracting her from her frustrating thoughts as to the reasons for the war, a faint buzz sounded in Lieutenant Swanson?s ear. She glanced down at her radar and reached out to key in a scanner ID. She flipped on her comm.

?Do you see what I see??

?Affirmative Boxer. Counting two?no? three contacts, possibly cruiser size.? The Colonel?s voice sounded unusually strained.

?I have ID?s? uns Mao Tse Chung, uns Siddartha Gautama, and uns Winston Churchill. All three were captured in April. This has to be what destroyed the Winchester.

?It is.? The finality in Basket?s tone gave Erica a chill.

?Sir??

?Lieutenant, return to base immediately. Bring Lisa the location data.?

?On your wing sir.? Erica turned slightly in her seat, looking out at Colonel Bachmann?s Diamondback on her right. Something about this wasn?t feeling quite right.

?Negative Lieutenant. I will not be returning with you. Return to base alone.?

?I don?t understand sir.? Another click sounded from her console. ?Incoming message? they must have fighters nearby to have picked us up on radar?. But I don?t see them??

?Return to base immediately and ignore that transmission. That is a direct order.?

Erica?s video console switched on as the computer decrypted the send. A young man in a tattered uniform appeared on her screen, a large patch on the man?s shoulder proclaiming his alliance to the pcw military.

?Greetings Colonel,? began the pcw officer, ?It?s good to see you. The Ben Franklin battle group is with me here, ready to receive. We?d like to have you on board quickly so we can be gone by the time your cruiser gets here, so if you would come in at heading twenty-five mark seven-one-niner at top speed?.?

The realization hit Erica a little slowly, her absolute disbelief preventing her from recognizing the situation immediately. The knowledge of what she must do came more rapidly. In shock, she reached out and flipped on a tight-beam secure comm link to Colonel Bachmann.

?Sir? you do realize that I can?t allow this. Under unsf code 300, I have no choice but to prevent your defection by any and all means necessary. You have the right to surrender yourself to unsf Court-Martial and defend your treason.?

?Erica? You know I?m not going to do that. Do what you have to. I don?t want to fight you. Eject and destroy your flight recorder and you can deny any knowledge of this.? The Colonel spoke softly but with finality. ?I think you understand why I have no other options here.?

?You do have options, sir,? Erica responded coldly. ?You can surrender.? She fought back the rising flood of emotions and questions, pulling on her military training to keep focused on her duty as an officer and a pilot in the United Nations Space Forces. This man was a traitor, she told herself, and deserved to be dealt with as such. Who he is, their friendship or his reasons for doing this did not matter. Lieutenant Swanson gripped her flightstick tightly, reaching out with her left hand to arm her weapons.

?You don?t have to do this Erica. Just let me go and pretend this never happened. You?ll never see me again and we can both go our ways with a clear conscience.?

?Negative, Bachmann. You are a traitor and I am required by law to stop you immediately.? Boxer slammed her throttle forward and slid her fighter around to accelerate up and away from Basket?s. She switched her weapons to guns and made a loop to come up around behind Basket. The Colonel continued to fly in a straight line, headed for the pcw battlegroup.

?Turn back immediately Colonel, or I will be foced to fire on you.?

?Negative Lieutenant. Don?t force me to defend myself. Think about this. We?re on the wrong side of this war. The pcw is merely fighting for their right to make their own decisions.?

Hesitantly Lieutenant Swanson lined up the crosshairs on Basket?s six and slowly squeezed the trigger. The blasts lanced out towards the Diamondback, sparking as they connected with the electron shielding.

Colonel Bachmann registered the shots on his console stopped talking, reacting as much by instinct as by decision. Pulling hard left, he spun the fighter around and accelerated into a flip, coming around head-on as the other fighter adjusted to match. The tow fighters exchanged shots as they shot past one another, so close the shielding above Swanson?s head crackled with energy as it brushed against the underside of the Colonel?s plane.

Boxer pulled hard on the flight stick, bringing the fighter around to target the Colonel again. Surprised to find the fighter not visible, she glanced down at the radar. The blue dot signifying a ?friendly? fighter showed almost directly behind her. How Basket had moved the fighter so quickly to attack, Erica couldn?t fathom. The warning alarm went off: the Colonel had locked on a missile.

Erica slammed back the throttle to zero, straining her reverse thrusters as the plane fought to a stop. She spun the fighter around, then pushed the throttle back full in an attempt to shake Basket off her tail.

The Colonel didn?t fall for it. He copied the maneuver and stuck on Boxer?s tail, opening fire with his cannons. Erica watched the power reading on her shields dropping as he dug a hole through the electron field to put the missile through. The tone in Boxer?s ears changed pitch as a missile shot out from the bottom of Bachmann?s fighter. Erica frantically dropped counter-measures but knew that at this range she had little hope.

With a wrenching sound, Erica heard the missile connect, though she felt nothing. The sound carried through the ship though the force was deflected by the inertial dampener. Unfortunately, the dampener could do nothing to deflect the damage. The Lieutenant pulled hard on the flight stick, swinging her damaged fighter around to accelerate after the Colonel. She reached out and punched up her damage readout: she had been lucky. The shields had apparently held out enought to absorb most of the blast from the missile, but the impact had done enough. Her communications array had been mostly torn from the ship, and her shielding projector had been demolished, leaving her naked to incoming fire. At higher speeds, even colliding pieces of space junk could tear through the fighter.

The Colonel had gotten a bit cocky though, and hadn?t planned on Boxer getting her fighter out of the blast and onto his tail so quickly. Her guns opened up and dug into his six before he could dodge; the tone signalling a missile lock came all too quickly for Basket?s taste. Counter-measures were still of minimal use at this range, and he jinked the ship around trying to avoid the incoming attack. The missile Boxer launched connected with one of the counter-measures, but it was too close and the blast tore through the shielding right into his projector. He too was now without protection. At the last moment, her guns still blazing, Boxer pulled up and away to avoid crashing her vulnerable fighter into Basket?s. With a sudden spin and a blast from the throttle, Bachmann pulled his Diamondback around in an impossibly fast spin, lining himself up on Boxer. Glancing over her shoulder, Lieutenant Swanson realized the game was up; the Colonel was simply the better pilot. She started to reach for the ejection handle, but stopped, realizing she would rather die than be captured by Damian Bachmann and the pcw traitors. She closed her eyes and waited for the squeal of tearing plastics and metal she knew would be the last sound she heard. It didn?t come. Her communications video display flickered to life with a crackle and she slowly opened one eye.

?Get out of here Lieutenant.? Colonel Damian Bachmann?s face appeared on the screen, everything but his eyes hidden by the black helmet. His voice faded in and out through the noise Erica?s damaged Comm system was making. ?The game is over. You can either come with me and know what you?re fighting for, or you can go back to the Lincoln. I don?t want to shoot you down, you?re a good pilot. And a good friend.?

Lieutenant Erica Swanson blinked a few times, thinking. She glanced down at her console readouts; the pcw battlegroup would be in combat range in 4 minutes. Even if she ran now, she would barely make it back to the Lincoln before the much faster cruiser could catch her, and her interdiction broadcaster had been destroyed with the hit to her communications. That left her with two options; secede to the pcw with the Colonel, or kill Basket (if she could) and get out of radar range of the cruiser. Otherwise, his radar link would give her position away and she would be caught before she could escape.

Crossing her fingers, Erica reached out and coded in a new program for one of her remaining missiles. She closed her eyes in a brief prayer and then suddenly slammed the throttle forward, squeezed the trigger to fire the missile, and pulled back on the stick into a loop. The missile dropped from her fighter, but remained in it?s position, the maneuvering rockets inactive. Her fighter blasted ahead and into a loop while the missile maintained the original course.

It took a brief moment for Basket to figure out what she was doing. That brief second was enough to prevent him from evading the trap. As he started to follow her path and stick on her six, he saw suddenly the immobile missile floating in space. If he continued his pattern, he would fly straight into it. By the time he realized what he had to do, it was almost too late. Bachmann slammed back the throttle and spun the ship, side thrusters firing full as he fought to angle the ship far enough to miss the missile in the few meters he had to maneuver.

He was successful. The missile passed harmlessly beneath his wing, missing the fighter by inches. Without his shields, even the blast from an explosion meters away could kill him, so the Colonel accelerated quickly away from the missile. Unfortunately for him, by this time Boxer had maneuvered into position behind him. Realizing he had been outmaneuvered, Damian Bachmann clicked on his comm system.

?I know you don?t want to do this Erica. We?re friends. Just turn around and destroy your black box and you can go.?

Silently, not responding, Erica stared ahead at the fighter in her sights. This was her friend. This was her Commanding Officer, the man who had saved her life multiple times with his quick thinking in battle and his briliant combat strategies. Directly ahead of his fighter she could just make out the flicker of light reflecting off the incoming battlegroup far in the distance. The continuous squeal of the missile lock tone hummed in her ears, asking her to fire. Her console flashed with various messages about shield strength and locks, telling her that all she need do was squeeze the trigger and her target would be destroyed.Her head was spinning with conflicting emotions and ideas. Duty, honor, friendship, war, freedom?. Trying to clear her mind, she closed her eyes, listening to the scream of the missile tone and the crackle of her damaged comm system?

The Blast of War 8.7 of 10 on the basis of 2475 Review.