I’m not a storyteller. “The war goes well, the war goes to Hell.” My father used to say that. It was his candor and his sense if humor that kept our family going. He could sift the truth out of any article that reported our wins and losses in the eternal conflict and tell us exactly what had really happened with a hint of humor that did more for our morale than the over-patriotic flamboyancy of the press releases. It was as if he knew a secret code hidden in the news – buried in the names, dates, places, facts, figures and opinions – a private joke, perhaps. He died before he could tell me what it was or how he did it. He died before he could tell me a lot of things.
I’m a farmer and a fighter pilot. I live on the outer colony of Wilson’s World in the gamma sector of the Earthmen’s section of our galaxy: the Milky Way. Humanity has known interstellar war for the last three to four generations. I know little about my grandparents, apart from an old digital photo that Mom gave me. It shows both sets of grands taken at my parent’s wedding. They almost seem happy, but their faces show the dread and concern of people locked in a war room with only small windows of hope for the future opened rarely for their relief. (That was one of Dad’s old euphemisms.) I was told that all four of my grands died shortly after the wedding, but not how, and certainly not why.
I’m a member of Wilson’s Wildmen, a band of seasoned fighter pilots attached to the USS Wildman responsible for guarding the gamma sector and all of its inhabited planets from all alien incursions. It seems a pity to be a seasoned warrior at the age of twenty one. Yet, in this day and age, twenty one is considered middle-aged. Our sergeant major is nearly forty, though he won’t admit it. Our colonel is only twenty eight. Life expectancy of an average human in the outer colonies is estimated at thirty three. The Wildmen average nineteen years of age, and there are one hundred and fifty of us; the youngest is thirteen, and the oldest is our sergeant major. I’m told that on ancient Earth, many pagan fighters never made it to the age of thirty, but history isn’t one of my strong suits, and ancient history wasn’t taught to us outside of its uses as possible strategies against our enemy, and the numerous mentions of historical military glory.
The gamma sector consists of three solar systems with only two inhabited planets: Wilson’s World and New England. New England is being terra-formed, so only a small group of workers are there at any time and they rotate out frequently due to the harsh environment that they’re reforming into livable space. It takes between ten and fifty years to terra-form a planet and New England won’t be fully livable for twenty years or more. Wilson’s World is fully inhabited with ten cities and their outlying areas: primarily farms. An estimated fifty million people live here, mostly in the cities, although two of the cities are less than 100 acres each in area.
I’m also a farmer, as I mentioned earlier. It’s a dual existence we all have; we all work one job in the civilian sector to support the military, as we simultaneously serve in that same military. I farm thirteen acres on the southeastern side of our squadron’s pitch. It’s considered prime real estate considering the dry region that we inhabit. My squadron is stationed somewhere in the blond grass delta of the northern continent. My acreage is bordered on two sides by the only living trees for miles. I also keep a flock of giant chickens. I’m one of the few soldiers in my outfit to have so much farming responsibility. In fact, I’m the only farmer/pilot with so much responsibility in this sector.
We have to grow our own food, and the food for our staple livestock: giant chickens. Our very existence relies on the trade of giant chickens and their byproducts with the rest of humanity. No other animal has been successfully enlarged, and the theory is that only our planet facilitates this abnormal growth. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been anywhere else for long enough to find out. Elsewhere on Wilson’s World they grow cattle and farm fish, but they’re normal Earth sized animals and they don’t pose the problems or the rewards like those associated with raising giant chickens. Sometimes I wish I only had a cow to tend. Then again, if I did, my life might be less interesting.
I’ve been asked, in a somewhat roundabout way, to chronicle our lives here on Wilson’s World. I will try to do this by not giving up any secrets about our defensive capabilities. For instance, I’ve already blabbed that the Wildmen number one hundred and fifty. That’s only my unit. We share the defensive duties of our race with several other units in this sector, as well as on this planet. Not the least of which are the “Freedom Fighters”, the military unit that we report to directly. Besides, by the time these notes are published and read, the numerical conditions of everything I will have described will undoubtedly have changed.
Conditions weren’t always like they are now. The gamma sector used to be fairly safe. Recently, about three years ago, our enemy began attacking this sector in force. We went from being a small patrol post to a major military installation practically overnight. As I remember, it was overnight.
Much has changed, and much has stayed the same. I only now feel the irony of our situation: most of the war’s early survivors moved to the gamma sector because of its position away from the fighting; now it’s the most attacked zone in the galaxy. It’s almost as if humanity was herded into this region. It’s ironic because ninety percent of humanity now live as nomadic herdsmen. Most of the inhabitants of Wilson’s World were born elsewhere and moved their flocks, families and whatever was left of their lives here to survive. Survival is our most important product.
Not that there aren’t humans living in all of the different sectors, they can’t all live here. Relocation was and still is a preferential delegation. We don’t have refugees, just relocated citizens: millions of relocated citizens.
The human race lives on today in this sector because of the efforts of our unit. We don’t do it alone, but our success ratio is the best. We have never been forced from Wilson’s World. Our battle losses are far less than our kills. No enemy units have ever encroached beyond our station into the heart of humanity’s last remnants; or, should I say, the Alpha sector, where Earth is. The war still wages on all other fronts, but gamma sector is still the safest and the best defended - until now.
“Diplomacy has reared its ugly head” in our fair sector. I only heard my father say that phrase once, and it’s stuck with me because of the consequences that came from it. Once, many years ago, our enemy offered us a cease fire to arrange peace talks. We capitulated. A peaceful meeting never happened. Our ambassadors and their many ships of state flew into the enemy territory somewhere in the Epsilon sector to attend a peace conference and never returned. Only a brief garbled message was heard in their wake, “. . . under attack.” We lost our greatest flagship that day, and dozens of other great ships along with their full complements of crews; a loss we will never forget, or forgive. I only wish that our diplomats hadn’t forgotten; there is talk of another cease fire.
Last month, our independent defense unit was placed under the direct command of the Freedom Fighters regiment. We were once a small outpost of a dozen carriers and their complements, doing our part to defend the human race, enlarged by the sudden need to defend the gamma sector from a more organized enemy threat; overnight, like I said. It seems that the disarray of our successful defense efforts annoyed some of the higher brass who had suddenly found themselves transferred to our corner of the galaxy, (and in the middle of a less than military bunch of characters), so they sent a command unit to “organize” our forces. What we got was a lot of rules and regulations that occupy our free time with idiotic spit and polish while farming and patrolling take up the rest of our days. Whoever came up with this idea, I’d personally like to . . . But, I digress.
Perhaps a bit of history that I do know is necessary at this point, even if I don’t know much history. Things like learning have been made secondary to military training. I’ve heard that somewhere great minds are assembled to preserve our culture, but I don’t know where they are and I don’t care to know. If it doesn’t kill aliens or feed my people, I’m not interested in it.
Anyway, Wilson’s World was settled in the year 21?? by a settlement fleet led by William Wilson who’d been sent by Earth to colonize the most Earthlike planet in the gamma sector in the name of humanity and all that was good and holy. (I apologize for my venom, but history is written by those that seek glory, and those who win wars; not by those with objective opinions.) Upon arrival, Wilson set about terra forming the planet. Vast oceans of water were poured from bucket ships that ran between the outer planets and Wilson’s World collecting hydrogen and oxygen from other planet atmospheres to engorge a planned irrigation system. The planet already had some water, polar ice caps and a system of rivers, but nothing larger than a great lake. The colonists increased the water table by fifty times. Large lakes became sprawling seas, and since the salt content of the planet was very low, the seas were mostly fresh water.
I’ll skip the less interesting agricultural history and explain the giant chickens. Somehow, through breeding, genetic engineering, dumb luck or some quirk in the make-up of Wilson’s World, most every relocated animal died out within the first few months, with the major exception of the domestic chicken.
Through a series of well documented blunders, feral chickens were allowed to grow to enormous proportions. They ate voraciously. Problems feeding them and the colonists brought conflict. The Great Chicken War began and ended in a month. The chickens won. They were many and mighty, and fought well against the starvation weakened colonists. Apparently, an enraged giant chicken is not only difficult to kill, it kills rather well on its own behalf. A second colonial settlement fleet found Wilson’s World nearly devoid of humans. Great fields of unorganized grain were occupied by flocks of giant chickens while humans cowered in makeshift bunkers. The order to exterminate the fowl was given. A woman named Margaret Summers had a better idea.
Ms. Summers observed that the water sources and the grains eaten by the chickens were more easily attacked, since chickens knew nothing of defending their provisions. An old fashioned slash and burn war decimated the chicken ranks. Once victory was assured, the humans subdued the remaining flock and rebuilt their colony. To make a long story short, the re-domestication of the giant chicken proved successful and now Wilson’s World is the chicken capital of the galaxy. Interestingly enough, giant chickens also serve as more than adequate guard animals and early warning sentries. We seem to have built a symbiotic relationship between humans and giant chickens, but more on that later.
As for the history of the war against our current enemy, not much is known by me because every soldier, such as I, is better off not knowing why, when or how the war began, only that our survival depends on us winning every battle we enter. Our enemy is more technically advanced and apparently outnumber us; though their attack strategies are bafflingly simplistic. They seem to be without conscience, mercy or pity. They fight dirty; well, dirtier than we do, and they can survive in any atmosphere, even the vacuum of space for an unknown, unmeasured length of time. They are damned difficult to kill, but we manage it. Our weapons are primitive in comparison, but they get the job done.
I guess that I can describe our weapons without threat of treason. After all, even every newborn baby will have to become familiar with this war and its weaponry very early in their lives. If posterity gets a hold of this record, then maybe they’ll need this information to combat a new enemy, or maybe even the same enemy. So, first I’ll start with our fighter craft, because that is what I’m most familiar with.
If I were to give a description of the appearance of my fighter craft, I would say that it’s shaped like a fat dart without a point. Also, the wings of the dart are grouped around the front end as the tail tapers into a circular ring of jets for maneuverability in space.
I was once presented with a picture from an ancient children’s book about a character named Buck Rogers. It’s almost eerie how similar the ships that were drawn in that book resemble our fighters. But the differences far outweigh the similarities.
The ship has four wings. They protrude from the forward fuselage in opposing equidistant positions. The wings fold and retract to allow for atmospheric landings and to save on ground and carrier storage space. Each wing has a landing tire mounted in its center where it folds. Atmospheric landings are facilitated by extending two or more wings on the upper side of the dart while eventually folding the two ground side wings in order to use them as landing gear. In the event of damage to the ship, almost any combination of wings and wheels may allow a safe landing; or at least a landing that you can walk away from, which is the definition of a good landing.
The cockpit is centrally located in the ship’s interior. It is a nearly indestructible egg in which the pilot sits in a fetal position surrounded by a virtual universe. Should the ship be destroyed in battle, the cockpit can sustain a pilot for several hours in space, drop onto a nearby planet with parachutes, or preserve the body until pickup. The virtual images afford the pilot a view of everything around him minus his own ship. In battle, a targeting array appears, and maneuvering is controlled by a joystick. I’ve heard it compared to ancient video games; whatever they were.
The propulsion system is contained in the tail of the dart. Actually, it looks more like an old style bomb than a dart. The tail tapers from the front section along a fuselage packed at the end with rockets and jets. The fighter is only built to be used in space combat, not for ground strafing or atmospheric dog fighting. It only lands on a planet as the result of . . . well, not so much landing as plummeting at the end of a mission. One drag chute comes out of the very end of the tail during landing.
Every other surface of the tail is covered in ways to maneuver the fighter. Four rear firing rockets propel the craft. Other side firing rockets and jets turn and steer the fighter. The design is to allow maximum protection to the engines as the fighter craft perform a frontal attack. The forward profile of the fighter as it flies at you looks a lot like a ball in the center of an X. Now, we should discuss the armaments.
I should mention that the fighter craft is fifty feet long and seventeen feet off the ground at its highest point at the nose. The engines in the tails constitute ten square feet of this space at the rear, tapering from the front at an angle of about 45 degrees. The cockpit is eight feet by two and a half feet oblong, and the wings stretch for only three feet from the fuselage in their folded and locked positions; double that when extended. The fuselage nearly scrapes the ground in its landed position.
The bulk of the dart is ammunition storage. The firing mechanism is magnetic, so the ammo rounds are merely that, round pieces of metal sometimes coated with some other substance depending on the mission. For instance, we have discovered that salt covered pellets have a much better kill ratio than bare metal rounds. Don’t ask me why, or how we know that. The ammo is directed from the hold of the ship out through the nose cannon of the dart by a series of electro-magnets. They come out fast and cold. The magnets are powered by an atomic battery located between the pilot and the engines that will outlive the ship. I should also tell you how the ship is fueled.
Our fighter craft only carry enough fuel to power their maneuvering jets. Fighters are launched from planets attached to larger carrier rocket ships. Once in space, fighters are slingshot from the carriers into battle. The fuel for a fighter is fifty pounds of concentrated sugar. That’s right, I said sugar. I’m not familiar with the distillation processes, or the concentration processes. I can only report that a distilled concentrated block of solid sugar is used to power our fighter’s rockets. The block is placed in the ship’s tail in a compartment that looks more like an ice chest than a fuel tank.
We manufacture this fuel on Wilson’s World. Every colony does so. Every fighter pilot is issued one cube of fuel per mission; God help you if you need more. It looks like green candy and tastes too sweet for human consumption. A pilot’s initiation process includes one lick of a fuel cube. Only diabetic pilots are excused. Believe me, one lick is enough to put you into sugar shock for a week. Each fuel cube is also “flavored” with mint to facilitate more efficient burning in the fighter engines. Hence the pilot’s solemn creed, “Do not eat the big green mint.”
As to our enemy and its capabilities, their ships are flying saucers; I have no idea how they operate. The outermost ring of their fighter craft spins rapidly. It is also made of an unknown hardened metallic substance that literally cuts through anything in its path. They attack our fighters by ramming them and cutting them in half. As to their pilots, we have never seen nor communicated with one. In the event of imminent capture, they have a self destruct mechanism that effectively incinerates the pilot and all that remains of his ship. Earlier, I mentioned their simplistic attack plans; I’d like to say that we figured this out early in the war, but I’d be incorrect.
Our enemy fights in space in what can only be described as a two dimensional strategy. They line up their fleet to face ours as near to perfectly parallel as possible, launch their fighters in lines/waves and simply attempt to cut through our defenses like a single edged blade; although perhaps a multi-bladed chainsaw is more accurate a description. At first, we fought against them in much the same way: meeting them head on, side by side. This was futile, their hardened ships were impossible to shoot down from a frontal assault, or any assault on their blades; we had to change our tactics. Their tactics only changed when their advance brought them to the rear of our fleet, then they turned around and attacked again until they had sliced us into as many small pieces as they could to stop us from countering their attacks. Then they chopped up any survivors.
As to the simplicity of attack that I mentioned, our enemy never deviates from a straight line attack formation. When we realized this, we changed our tactics to compensate. When the enemy launches their fighters, we simply duck out of the way. Now, that may seem easy, but the fact is, in space, launching fighters at close range has the same effect as shooting a machine gun at your enemy from a similar close range; we rely more on instinct than visual confirmation of a launch to avoid their attacks. For those who have never experienced a fight in space, the speed of it would cause them apoplexy. Many of our carrier crews experience what we call “yo-yo syndrome” as they literally bounce around in space trying to anticipate an enemy fighter launch. If the carrier fails to disengage their artificial gravity, serious injuries have been known to occur.
As this information pertains to the war, I will mention that my unit has fought with distinction these past three years, turning every attack from our enemy back into deep space. We achieved this success by sheer grit and determination. I know, because I am one of the few to survive all three years of this combat.
The first attack that came before the major invasion was obviously made to feel out our defenses. Less than a dozen enemy ships came into our solar system. We beat them back, but at a high cost. Our colonel realized immediately that the enemy was planning a larger incursion, perhaps after making another attempt to soften us up. He sent for as many reinforcements as could be had. Luckily, the sixth fleet was on shore leave two systems away.
They were here in four days. When the enemy returned in force, they didn’t expect to meet such overwhelming opposition. The battle came more easily for us this time; they lost by a huge margin, probably due to overconfidence or the brilliant pincer move that we initiated with our enlarged fleet. By another stroke of luck, the sixth fleet commander also realized that the war had come in force to the gamma sector. In less than six months, the gamma sector was well secured, and with no noticeable weakening of our other sector defenses.
I think I’ve covered enough background information to prepare any reader of this journal for the events that are about to unfold. Perhaps history will look kindly upon me. Perhaps history will fail to render anyone capable of reading this narrative in the future. I find it hard to set my own mind to the possibility of a future. I can only do my duty for today and pray that somewhere, some time, a survivor or billion will remain to read and discuss what went wrong and what went right. Perhaps even someone in the future will have my father’s knack for decoding and will learn for themselves what really happened. After all, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”