CHAPTER 25: High Stakes
“This is Captain Webber of the Kalomo, as senior officer, I assume command of this battlegroup. All battlestars are to take up positions near the outer perimeter of the basestar’s sensor field. Do not engage unless attacked.”
Captain Webber transmitted this message to Battlestars Camden, Millau, and Pavnar. Fifteen minutes earlier the four of them tumbled out of null-space with Basestar Colossus in the same egress event. Additional time-jump egresses were being detected every few minutes. It was another 30 minutes later when the last time-jump energy burst registered in Kalomo sensors. Within this time span, Captain Webber delivered his status report, received orders from ADM McCall to shadow Basestar Colossus but not to engage. Captain Webber managed to comply with his orders for the next ninety minutes. Captain Webber observed that the Colossus showed no interest in engaging with the 19 battlestars and 171 starfighters under his command.
“Captain, the Colossus has pulled back its sensor field,” a CIC crewman urgently reported.
“Battle stations,” Captain Webber called out to his command capsule crew. “Launch all starfighters.”
CAPT Webber had plenty of time to anticipate the behavior of Colossus. He deduced that the destruction of Goliath would motivate ADM Chaffin to act against his battlegroup. When the report that Goliath had been destroyed came in from DPG09 Wing Commander Masamune several minutes earlier, he knew that Colossus was only moments away from the same information. The pull back of their sensor field was not something CDR Webber anticipated, but he quickly surmised that Colossus was diverting the reclaimed energy to its thrusters. The reaction he did anticipate appeared within their own sensor fields several minutes later.
“Enemy starfighters, dozens of them,” a CIC crewman shouted. “They’re approaching fast!”
Captain Webber tapped his computer touch screen and initiated a communication link with his starfighter squadron’s senior officer.
“Commander Reynolds, break up that formation.”
Lieutenant Commander Mark Reynolds was the senior starfighter pilot assigned to Battlestar Kalomo. His squadron was a total of ten starfighters—the maximum number of starfighters that the Kalomo could accommodate.
“Okay guys, it’s time to go to work,” LCDR Reynolds transmitted to his squad.
With a touch of his finger to the control panel sleeve on his right arm, LCDR Reynolds ended the transmission. Control panel were on both LCDR Reynolds’ sleeves. Attached to the outer sides of both sleeves were his laser pointers. The control panels and the head gear were the only electronics affixed to him. Most of the electronics operating the starfighter were in the lining of the cockpit. Visuals and animated graphics of the starfighter’s surroundings were displayed on the walls of the sphere. All the sensor data being fed into the cockpit came from the Kalomo. Using the sensor field of a basestar or a battlestar was a power savings for starfighters.
LCDR Reynolds floated in his starfighter’s artificially produced zero-gravity cockpit sphere. The zero-gravity space within the sphere prevented inertia up to 50g’s from producing any sensation of movement. Inertia over 50g’s did produce a sensation of movement, and 70g’s was enough to disable the zero-gravity generator altogether. Repulsive electromagnetism between his suit and the lining of the cockpit kept LCDR Reynolds situated in the center of the sphere. Motion capture programming enabled him to manipulate his starfighter in both shell and humanoid configurations with hand, arm and body movements. With the motion capture programming turned off, and only in its shell-like configuration, he could steer the starfighter with verbal commands and laser pointer.
Kalomo’s starfighter squad was positioned out to the perimeter of its combat zone between it and Colossus. LCDR Reynolds took manual control of his starfighter and began to thrust it toward the large formation of enemy starfighters falling toward Kalomo. His computer displayed a count of 50 enemy starfighters. While in a head first fall with his arms by his sides and his legs stretched back, LCDR Reynolds initiated a brief burn of his thrusters by directing the flat of his palms behind him and flexing his feet so that his toes pointed back. His squadron followed his lead and began a leisurely push toward the WDF02 starfighters.
LCDR Reynolds did not want to fall through the WDF02 starfighters too quickly. The plan was to engage with the enemy starfighters, destroy as many of them as they could and force the remainder off their trajectories. When the WDF02 starfighters came to within combat-range, LCDR Reynolds made U pattern gesture with his arms. The starfighter computer responded to his action by cracking the hull open along a hundred different interconnecting diagonal lines. The seed shaped hull of the starfighter broke apart into dozens of geometric shapes. As the shapes moved apart, the starfighter expanded out to its basic humanoid configuration.
The new starfighter configuration took up four times more space. The head was essentially a platform for sensors, scanners, optics, communications and particle beam attachments. Much of the exoskeleton was a lattice of mechanical limbs. The upper torso was a reinforced housing for the cockpit. The abdominal area housed thrusters that faced forward and back. The upper and lower legs and upper arms housed the power plants. Repulsor engines were located at the feet and hands. Each forearm was a housing for five railguns affixed to the underside in a circular configuration. Altogether they could discharge one-thousand warheads per minute.
The deployment into this humanoid configuration took little more than one second. Instantly after transforming LCDR Reynolds’ starfighter began spewing out railgun warheads in rapid succession; his squadron did the same. Each projectile that spurted out of the railgun left a bright spark of light behind as they quickly disappeared into the black of space. Firing paused again and again as starfighters adjusted their aim for new targets. The starfighters needed only to reposition an arm to affect a new aim. These adjustments lasted for a second or less. Repeated short burns of the maneuvering thrusters were used to adjust position and steady their aim.
The exchange between LCDR Reynolds’ starfighter squadron and the 50 WDF02 starfighters lasted for twelve seconds. Each group danced and maneuvered to evade the rain of projectiles streaming toward them. The desperate evasive actions threw most of the WDF02 starfighters off their planned trajectories. When the two groups were clear of each other, the tally of WDF02 starfighters destroyed was three, and LCDR Reynolds’ squadron went from ten to four.
“Captain, 47 enemy starfighters have made it through the fighter screen,” CDR Bowen reported. “All will pass through our close-range zone and nine could come into lethal-range.”
CDR Bowen did not tell CAPT Webber anything he did not already know. He had been studying the approach of the WDF02 starfighters from the moment they appeared on Kalomo’s sensor field screen.
“Give me a three second reverse thrust burn, then divert ten degrees down and to the right,” CAPT Webber ordered without moment’s delay.
CAPT Webber ordered this maneuver to improve Kalomo’s chance of surviving the coming assault. The fact that they were outside Colossus’ sensor field was also an encouragement, which meant the Kalomo would not register in the enemy’s computers until the sensor fields of the starfighters enveloped them. Compared to a battlestar, starfighter sensor fields were small. With the change in trajectory, CAPT Webber knew there was a chance that several of the enemy starfighters would pass the Kalomo without seeing it.
“Enemy starfighters will be in combat-range in 30 seconds,” a CIC crewman announced.
“Charge all weapon systems,” CAPT Webber responded.
For the next three minutes, Kalomo destroyed and slipped between hundreds of warheads. Two enemy starfighters were also destroyed, but the Kalomo came away intact. The surviving enemy starfighters that fell across the Kalomo’s path collapsed back into their shells and disappeared into the black. The WDF02 starfighters reversed their thrusts when they were beyond Kalomo’s sensor field. While forty-five Colossus starfighters pursued the Kalomo, a dozen other battlestars in CAPT Webber’s battlegroup were fighting for their survival. Across a span of ten minutes, DPG09 Battlestars Panaji and Valentia were destroyed. CAPT Webber’s battlegroup now numbered 17 battlestars.
It took the 45 starfighters of the Colossus 33 minutes to catch up with the Kalomo’s sensor field. The other 16 battlestars of the Kalomo Battlegroup were also being harried or minutes away from it. Everyone in the battlegroup knew that the second attack would be costlier than the first because of their matching speed and trajectories. The starfighters of the Colossus were now able to harry the battlestars for an indefinitely. Several seconds after they appeared within the outer perimeter of Kalomo’s sensor field, CAPT Webber transmitted the following order to the LCDR Reynolds.
“Commander, engage those starfighters.”
“Captain!” LCDR Reynolds called back with a mixture of alarm and anger. “Engaging those starfighters is suicide. Nothing we do is going to stop them from getting through.”
“Commander,” CAPT Webber growled back into his headset microphone. “You either engage those starfighters or forfeit your contract.”
LCDR Reynolds knew that his claim of suicide was an exaggeration. He knew the probability of surviving the destruction of a starfighter was 73%. He also understood his contractual obligation to undertake all military actions that were not suicidal and had an achievable objective. The objective here was not to destroy the enemy starfighters, but to hinder their ability to destroy the Kalomo. Despite understanding the objective, LCDR Reynolds was not looking forward to having his starfighter destroyed and risking the possibility of damage to his cockpit.
The cockpit was designed to sustain the pilot despite the destruction of the surrounding vessel. The cockpit represented less than 1% of the starfighter, and the escape pod was engineered to sustain its occupant for a minimum of 500 hours. Escape pod beacons transmitted signals when deployed or activated. They also transmitted biotelemetry on the status of its occupant. LCDR Reynolds knew the probability of surviving the destruction of his starfighter was good. Fear of enduring the event that had him reluctant to obey CAPT Webber’s order. On the opposite side, it was the fear of losing a payout from Starcorp DPG09 that made him reluctant to disobey. If he was to disobey the order, the loss of income would happen regardless of the outcome.
“Roger, Captain,” LCDR Reynolds transmitted back. “Engaging enemy starfighters.”
“I’m hit! I’m hit!” LT Rupp yelled into his microphone.
LCDR Reynolds was too busy dodging the incoming fire from a dozen WDF02 starfighters to give any attention to LT Rupp’s cry. The lining of his cockpit sphere displayed threats all around him. His starfighter computer announced threats as they appeared. Announcements were localized to spots in the sphere that matched the direction of the threat. Projectiles appeared as tiny dots of light that grew brighter and larger as they came closer. Eventually the dots turned into holographic streams of light that flew across the sphere. These audible and visual alerts gave LCDR Reynolds the awareness he needed to evade attacks with acts of zero-gravity acrobatics. Intermittent in his maneuvers were moments when he returned fire. He needed only to clinch his fist to discharge dozens of warheads per second down the point of his laser. The cockpit illustrated his barrage with bursts of holographic light which dissolved into the sphere lining.
I got one, LCDR Reynolds thought after seeing one of his targets flash red and then disappear from the display. He felt a swell of satisfaction. He did not want his starfighter destroyed before he could destroy at least one enemy starfighter. He believed the destruction of his own starfighter was inevitable since the WDF02 starfighters were now falling in the same direction and speed as he. He expected this firefight to continue until the destruction of his squadron. LCDR Reynolds instinctively knew it was just a matter of time before he was clipped by a projectile, leaving him unable to maneuver, making him an easier target for a second projectile. The first one or two impacts were routinely the beginning of a cascade of impacts that would rip the starfighter apart.
“Oh my God! I’m hit! I’m… ah!”
LT Tobin’s name appeared on LCDR Reynolds’ display when this message reverberated in from the direction of its author. It’s just two of us now, LCDR Reynolds briefly thought to himself with a new rush of panic. He knew he could not give assistance to the other member of his squadron and none could be given to him. His time and attention was devoted to surviving multiple attacks from enemy starfighters and the fire raining down at him. His return fire was motivated by a need to keep his attackers off balance rather than an expectation of hitting his target. With the loss of another squadron member, he expected more enemy starfighters to turn their attention to him. By his calculation, he was seconds away from destruction and possible death. He dodged incoming projectiles frenetically until it noticeably subsided.
LCDR Reynolds needed to hear no more than that to know that LT Kang’s starfighter had been struck by a projectile and was likely out of the fight. He was now alone. In that instant, his fear spiked to a whole new height. He expected the intensity of the projectiles coming at him to increase, but that is not what happened. After 15 seconds of dodging and firing back, the volume of fire coming at him continued to decrease. Previously, the heat of battle kept him too busy to discern the big picture. It was only now that the conflict was subsiding around him that he felt secure enough to look beyond his immediate concern. It took only a glance for him to see that the Kalomo was under heavy fire. Most of the WDF02 starfighters were orbiting the Kalomo like bees around a hive.
I’ve got you now, LCDR Reynolds thought as he rifled a torrent of projectiles at an enemy starfighter. Before that moment, he could not afford to devote much attention to any single target. Maintaining a fixed trajectory for two seconds so that he could lock onto a target also made him an easy target. Now there were only five WDF02 starfighters pursuing him and two of them were busy evading his previous burst of fire. After slipping between three streams of fire, LCDR Reynolds saw a window of opportunity to go after one of the starfighters that was shooting at him. The closest WDF02 starfighter made the fatal mistake of missing his target. Within a few seconds, LCDR Reynolds’ double barrel barrage ripped the enemy starfighter apart. The enemy pilot had just enough time to correct his aim and fire a half second burst. But LCDR Reynolds had already moved to avoid three other streams of fire.
LCDR Reynolds took a few seconds to rifle out multiple bursts of projectiles at the four remaining WDF02 starfighters pursuing him. While firing, he dodged and danced around crisscrossing streams of enemy fire while moving away from them. He instinctively knew that he could not let two or more of them get too close. Evasion grew easier with distance and more difficult with the addition of each new enemy starfighter. Several seconds into his escape, the computer display indicated his starfighter was no longer enveloped by Kalomo’s sensor field.
Using his own sensor field to guide him, LCDR Reynolds continued to push away from the four WDF02 starfighters pursuing him. When he reached a comfortable distance, he took a second to point a finger at an area of space where the Kalomo should be. The computer displayed a circle around the area indicated. When that occurred, LCDR Reynolds opened his hand and pulled his palm halfway in toward his face. The computer magnified the display, but there was no tag in the display for the Battlestar Kalomo. What LCDR Reynolds saw in the display were tags for dozens of space capsules in free fall. He inferred that Battlestar Kalomo had been destroyed.
For nearly a minute, LCDR Reynolds listened to the SOS radio transmissions from the Kalomo Space Capsules while dodging attacks from WDF02 starfighters. Now it was clear to him that the number of enemy starfighters pursuing him had grown. The mission was a failure. With no battlestar to defend or support, LCDR Reynolds turned his efforts to the task of survival. He retracted his starfighter into its casing, steered it onto a trajectory that took him further out from the sensor field of the Colossus and applied maximum thrust.
“This is the Battlestar Fitzroy. Dock your starfighter and come aboard.”
Captain Bruce Driscoll knew he needed to say no more than what was in his transmission. All pertinent information about the starfighter and the battlestar was exchanged between their computers by way of their overlapping sensor fields. This was the fourth DPG09 starfighter sensor field to intersect with CAPT Driscoll’s battlestar over the past hour. Collecting and rearming these starfighters was the only thing he could think to do.
The Fitzroy was the last surviving battlestar of the Kalomo Battlegroup. When the Colossus sent its starfighters out after the battlestars shadowing it, the Fitzroy escaped destruction with the help of two additional battlestars and their combined starfighter escorts. It took nearly an hour for 200 WDF02 starfighters to destroy two of the DPG09 battlestars and all 29 of their starfighter escorts. When the Fitzroy found itself alone with 57 enemy starfighters circling it and two dozen more approaching, CAPT Driscoll chose to steer his battlestar away from the Colossus. He continued his trajectory until the WDF02 starfighters gave up the chase. Then he turned back toward the Colossus and commenced collecting stray DPG09 starfighters.
It took half an hour for the fourth starfighter to catch up with the Fitzroy and dock. When it got itself situated inside one of Fitzroy’s docking spaces, he initiated an intercom connection with CAPT Driscoll.
“I’m Lieutenant Commander Mark Reynolds of the Kalomo Starfighter Squadron. The Kalomo was destroyed by enemy starfighters.”
“I know that commander,” CAPT Driscoll returned. “The Fitzroy is the last surviving battlestar of the Kalomo Battlegroup,” CAPT Driscoll continued solemnly. “Are there any more starfighters out there?” He questioned.
“No,” LCDR Reynolds sadly returned. “I’m the last from my squadron, and I haven’t seen any others,”
“Okay, Commander,” CAPT Driscoll softly spoke. “You take a rest and I’ll call you if I need you.”
“Captain,” LCDR Reynolds sharply spoke up. “You can’t be planning to go after that basestar.”
“The Orion is coming, and the Fitzroy is the last beacon,” CAPT Driscoll explained as though speaking the obvious. “We have to stay within visual range.”
That explanation made sense to LCDR Reynolds despite his best effort to find a flaw. At the end of their brief deliberation, he accepted the plan with a nod and settled back into his pod to rest. CAPT Driscoll turned his attention to following the Colossus while staying far enough away to discourage its starfighters from pursuing him. Both tasks were not hard to accomplish. The Colossus was accelerating along a fixed trajectory. The Fitzroy computer maintained a running calculation of its position. Maintaining a visual was a simple matter of looking where it was calculated to be. And with the sensor field of the Colossus extended far below combat distance, the Fitzroy was free to operate within an easy distance of it and with a modicum of impunity. Discouraging the Colossus starfighters from attacking the Fitzroy was a simple matter of distance, sensor fields and firepower.
It soon became clear to CAPT Driscoll that the commander of the Colossus was reluctant to send large numbers of starfighters far out from the basestar to pursue his battlestar. He suspected ADM Chaffin wanted to keep them nearby to defend the basestar. There was also the problem of sending too few starfighters after the Fitzroy. Outside of the sensor field of the Colossus, the firepower of its starfighters was lessened. Without the vast overlapping sensor field of the Colossus, its starfighters were frequently blind to each other’s location during the confusion of battle. Infrequently, they were blind to the location of their target during the confusion. Because of lapses in awareness, coordinating attacks in short order was near to impossible, and a severe detriment to the survival for a small number of WDF02 starfighters. But when the number of WDF02 starfighters grew from 30 to 200, it was the Fitzroy’s survival that was in severe peril. The accumulation of starfighters took 30 minutes to complete, at which time they started their approach.
“Captain, we just past threw a time-jump burst,” the Fitzroy CIC senior officer impassively reported. “Origin is close.”
CAPT Driscoll took the report in silence. He knew more information about the time-jump burst was shortly coming, and he had his suspicion that the Orion had just egressed from null-space.
“It’s the Orion,” the CIC officer called out several seconds later.
An instant after hearing this report, CAPT Driscoll called his crew to battle stations. He had no doubt that the Orion was about to launch its starfighters at the Colossus, and he wanted to be ready to take whatever actions needed. What these actions might be was something that CAPT Driscoll did not know at that moment. He knew that his lone battlestar was not likely to have any effect in the coming engagement, but he was not going to let that stop him from prepping his battlestar for battle. The Fitzroy was ten minutes into the prep when a message came in from ADM McCall ordering him to engage where he could.
“Enemy starfighters appear to be moving away,” the senior CIC officer announced with a blurt.
CAPT Driscoll knew this report could not be easily verified. The sensor field of the Fitzroy did not extend far enough to envelope the enemy starfighters. Visual analysis was the only means the CIC officers had for assessing their numbers. The starfighters the CIC officer was speaking of were positioned toward the back end of the Colossus. An earlier analysis estimated that close to 300 WDF02 starfighters were between Fitzroy and Colossus. CAPT Driscoll was not surprised to hear that some of those starfighters or all of them were positioning themselves to engage with the Orion starfighters. That meant that they had to move out in front of the Colossus.
“Captain,” the communications officer called. “Admiral McCall reports that he has launched 268 starfighters toward the Colossus. He orders us to bring our sensor field forward to aid their assault.”
“It’s suicide,” CDR Bartlett cut in with an intonation of incredulity. “Even if we get close enough to lend our sensor field to the assault, we’ll be ripped apart in seconds.”
CAPT Driscoll understood the thinking behind ADM McCall’s order. Without the sensor field of the Orion to illuminate the battlespace, those 264 starfighters were limited to dead reckoning to steer themselves toward the Colossus. By bringing his battlestar into the battle, he could give the starfighters a target to steer toward.
“We’re going in,” CAPT Driscoll announced. “Helm, put us on trajectory for the front end of the Colossus—maximum thrust.”
The helm officer gave a quick “yes sir” in response, then commenced to make it happen. Reluctantly, CDR Bartlett settled back into his escape pod and accepted the decision. CAPT Driscoll then turned his attention to his touch screen and made a videophone connection with the four starfighter pilots in his battlestar. The faces of the pilots appeared in four segments on his monitor.
“Starfighter pilots, you can detach and sit this one out,” CAPT Driscoll advised in a solemn voice. “Hook up with the Orion starfighters after they make their pass.”
“Captain, you won’t make it to Colossus’ combat perimeter without starfighter support,” LCDR Reynolds argued.
The intonation in LCDR Reynolds voice suggested that he was pleading with CAPT Driscoll to reconsider this decision.
“Maybe, maybe not,” CAPT Driscoll pondered. “We’re seeing an open path to the Colossus up here.”
“You could be wrong, Captain,” LCDR Reynolds continued to implore in disbelief.
CAPT Driscoll took a moment to consider LCDR Reynolds’ words before responding with skepticism.
“No, Chaffin has done the math. He’s calculated that the guns of his basestar will tear us apart by the time we get halfway into their combat zone and he’s probably betting we won’t even try,” CAPT Driscoll spoke like he was convincing himself. “He positioned all his starfighters forward. That’s what I would do,” he finished with a nod of his head.
CAPT Driscoll waited a few seconds in silence for a confirmation or a reply.
“If you know this assault won’t work, then why do it?” LCDR Reynolds queried in disbelief.
CAPT Driscoll paused to ponder the question and then answered.
“War is a high stakes venture, and I didn’t come here to lose.”
The Fitzroy was moving toward the Colossus at maximum thrust when the four starfighter pilots began prepping for launch.
“Okay, we’re out of here,” LT Hensley exclaimed through his intercom connection with the three other starfighter pilots.
“Roger that,” LT Kazama concurred.
One after the other, three of the four starfighters rose off their docking rails. The last starfighter sat still on its skis while the other three trailed away into the black. Inside that last starfighter, LCDR Reynolds was struggling a thought.
“Commander Reynolds,” CAPT Driscoll spoke through his videophone link. “You should launch. There’s nothing you can do here.”
LCDR Reynolds was suspended in mid-air inside his starfighter cockpit when the image of CAPT Driscoll appeared in the monitor that lined his sphere.
“You’re probably right, Captain,” LCDR Reynolds intoned ponderously. “Maybe there’s something you can do for me,” he finished with dread.
LCDR Reynold made a calculation that he believed could work. He knew trying it would almost certainly get his starfighter shot to pieces, and he feared that outcome to an extreme. He knew it was fear motivating him to leave, and it was the heroics of others past and present encouraging him to take the risk.
“What are you saying, Commander?” CAPT Driscoll questioned.
LCDR Reynolds took a deep breath and spoke the words he feared to say.
“I want you to take me as far as you can.”
CAPT Driscoll took several seconds to absorb LCDR Reynolds’ request. He surmised the commander’s plan and showed it with a knowing look. He then gave LCDR Reynolds a hint of a smile before speaking.
“You won’t make it, Commander,” CAPT Driscoll warned with a nod.
“War is a high stakes venture, Captain, and I didn’t come here to lose.” LCDR Reynolds countered with a hint of a smile.
With a nod and a disconnect of the videophone communication, CAPT Driscoll agreed to this unspoken plan. The Fitzroy continued to move along an intercept trajectory for Basestar Colossus at maximum thrust. Five minutes later, LCDR Reynolds’ starfighter was still attached to the hull of the Battlestar Fitzroy. Immediately, warheads from the Colossus began streaming by and bursting into hundreds of bright specs of light in the distant wake of the Fitzroy. The battlestar engaged its maneuvering thrusters to make slight shifts in its track that enabled it to slip between the onslaught of fire coming from the Colossus. Nearly two minutes later, the Fitzroy started using its Directed Energy Defense System to destroy warheads it could not evade. Another minute later, the smoke screen program began firing dozens of warheads per second into the battlestar’s path. Hundreds of bright flashes began bursting in front and around the battlestar. A fraction of a second behind each detonation, the Fitzroy streaked past the burst of light it produced.
“Smoke Screen Program engaged,” CAPT Driscoll reported to LCDR Reynolds through a videophone connection.
LCDR Reynolds watched the events unfold. His connection with the Fitzroy gave his starfighter access to the same data as the battlestar.
“Roger that,” LCDR Reynolds returned hesitantly.
LCDR Reynolds took a deep breath to prepare himself for his next words, and then he spoke.
“Computer, give me manual control.”
The computer acknowledged his command with a verbal response and acted on it in that same moment. A second later, LCDR Reynolds disengaged from the Fitzroy and lifted off. Still in its pumpkin seed configuration, the starfighter appeared to be hovering just above the battlestar.
“I am detached, Captain Driscoll,” LCDR Reynolds communicated through their sensor field connection. “Good luck to you,” he finished in a somber voice.
“Good luck to you, Commander,” CAPT Driscoll returned.
LCDR Reynolds immediately began maneuvering his starfighter toward the rear of the Fitzroy. Fifteen seconds later it trailed behind the battlestar by twice its length and was falling away. Through all of this, the Smoke Screen Program of the Fitzroy was in continuous operation. A full minute later, the Fitzroy appeared as a spot of light directly in front of the starfighter. Several seconds later that light began to break up. It only took a handful of seconds for nine warhead impacts to turn the Fitzroy into several large chunks of debris. Within that same span of time, LCDR Reynolds maneuvered his starfighter past the remains of the Fitzroy and projected his starfighter’s sensor field out to combat-range.
After the destruction of the Fitzroy, there was a lull in the fire from the Colossus. Then fire from the Colossus resumed with a new ferocity.
Evade! Evade! Evade!
The computer inside LCDR Reynolds cockpit warned repeatedly.
The lieutenant commander barely maneuvered under or over numerous incoming projectiles that streaked across his cockpit sphere as holographic streams of light. With the starfighter still in its pumpkin seed configuration, LCDR Reynolds was obliged to maintain a headfirst, prone posture inside his cockpit. His arms and fingers extended toward the direction of starfighter’s fall. The starfighter’s narrow silhouette provided the best chance for slipping between the rain of enemy fire coming at it.
ENERGY ATTACK! ENERGY ATTACK! The computer suddenly began blaring.
“SSP,” LCDR Reynolds yelled out in response.
Within a second, the computer activated its Smoke Screen Program. The shell of the starfighter cracked apart just enough for the two railgun arms to rotate a little as they rifled out a dozen warheads per second. Each projectile flew out the railgun like flashes of light, separating into four warheads and detonating a millisecond later. A second after the Smoke Screen Program started, the starfighter was whizzing through a tunnel of bright sparks. Outside of the starfighter the detonations looked like hundreds of flashbulbs going off every few seconds. The rain of warheads continued to dominate LCDR Reynolds attention. All his concentration was devoted to the continuous shifting of the starfighter’s track to elude incoming warheads. With each passing second, the struggle to remain intact became more and more frenetic. Maneuvering between the streams of projectiles coming at him was the whole purpose of LCDR Reynolds’ entire existence at that moment. He knew he was only seconds away from having his starfighter torn apart, and then a white dot appeared in his sensor field display. The object it represented had just been enveloped by the starfighter’s sensor field bubble and was moving across its forward portion. A second later. the dot turned into a circle and was computer tagged as the Colossus.
“SSP stop!” LCDR Reynolds yelled out.
Smoke Screen Program immediately stopped. It was almost a reflex action for LCDR Reynolds. He knew his starfighter was seconds away from being destroyed, and he knew stopping the Smoke Screen Program cut that time in half, but in his mind, this was his now or never moment. He quickly turned his hands up at the wrist so that his palms were facing forward, causing the rear thrusters to shut down and activating the reverse thrusters.
“Maneuvering thrusters—railguns!” LCDR Reynolds yelled at the computer.
The computer surrendered manual control of the maneuvering thrusters, the railguns and the targeting system to LCDR Reynolds. The transfer of control happened instantly. A display of crosshairs appeared on the monitor and directly in front of LCDR Reynolds. The intersection of the lines represented the point of the starfighter’s nose. Using his hands, feet, arms and legs, he maneuvered the crosshairs over the white circle tagged as Colossus. Once the Colossus was targeted, the circle turned red. All the starfighter’s warheads were configured to intersect the Colossus before detonating.
LCDR Reynolds knew that expanding his starfighter into its humanoid orientation would make him a much larger target, and it would cost him time that he feared he did not have. The success of his action was highly dependent upon speed. His instinct told him that the moment to act was in the half second before the destruction of his starfighter. Reflexes and muscle memory operated his movements in place of calculated thinking. With a growl, he pushed back against the terror he was feeling, and clenched his hands into fists.
The instant LCDR Reynolds clenched his fists, the railguns of his starfighter began spewing out warheads. Seventy-five warheads were rifled out of the twin railguns per second. Each projectile spurted out with a bright spark of electricity. It took a millisecond for each warhead to disappear into the black of space. After a sustain fire of four seconds, LCDR Reynolds was violently tossed toward the left wall of the sphere. The repulsive magnetism between the cockpit walls and his flight suit stopped him from slamming into the side of the sphere. Flashes of static mixed with display data erupted across the monitors.
IMPACT DAMAGE—HULL BREACHED
Immediately after the computer blurted out that report, a second violent jolt tossed LCDR Reynolds up against the side of the sphere to his left and the monitors went dark. An instant later, LCDR Reynolds found himself being tossed about within his sphere. The speed and violence of the jarring did not give him time to think about what was happening. His instincts governed his reactions to the forces pushing and pulling him about in the cockpit. A second after the buffeting started, a small round door opened and the light from the other side beamed into the cockpit. In that same moment, LCDR Reynolds could feel his suit being pulled toward the door. It took three seconds for him to slide along the side of the sphere and then drop through the opening like water down a drain. The door quickly shut once he settled inside the escape pod. Then the buffeting stopped.
For the first time since the start of this event, LCDR Reynolds took the time to think about what had and was happening. His mind told him that he was in the escape pod and that he was suspended inside its zero-gravity field. He recalled the process that separated the escape capsule from the starfighter. He remembered that the pod’s insulation would deafen the sound of explosive bolts blasting away component parts built around the escape pod housing. He remembered that the zero-gravity field inside the pod would dampen much of the sensation of movement. He remembered that the escape pod battery was made to maintain the life support system for no less than 500 hours. He remembered how the pod’s computer operated medical equipment put the occupant into a comatose state. Then he began losing all these memories as his mind faded into unconsciousness.