?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

The TOC Files 7: Whirlgig of Time

Title: 7. Whirlgig of Time
Series: The TOC Files
Word Count 8636
Summary Alan returns to his old squadron to stop a mercenary from infiltrating a planet and taking it over


VII. Whirlgig of Time
Thus the whirlgig of time brings in his revenges
Shakespeare Twelfth Night


Alan watched as they led Cameron James away before he turned to Jason. "Are you sure it's Raven? I thought he was killed back at Styx."

"That's what he wanted us to believe. We're not sure it's him, but it has all his trademarks."

Jason tried to rush them out of the room. "Admiral Kotsovitch is waiting for you."

Gil tugged him by the sleeve. "Ask Cameron where is time machine is. Also, give him a
complete search."

They travelled through the halls on a large conveyor belt. "At least we got Cameron," said
Shannon.

"Yeah. Too bad Johann and Frederich had to die," Gil said.

"It had to be him," Alan muttered. "That man is going to get it this time. I won't let it happen again."

Shannon pulled Gil aside. "Who is this Raven character?"

"He's a mercenary with a deadly reputation. He's killed countless people without a second
thought. At one point a few years ago, Alan led a squadron against Raven and his group at
Styx. Alan chased his ship, pulled a few acrobatics and managed to shoot down most of
Raven's men. He told me that when he had Raven in his sights, he got hit and Raven got
away from him."

"So that's why he's so set on getting this guy."

"That's putting it mildly."

They arrived at the Admiral's office which overlooked the hangar where the Dreadnought
was going through its final checks. He stood when they entered and returned Alan's salute.
"I was wondering if you were going to make it, Major."

"We almost didn't," he replied. "It was all in the timing." The Admiral laughed. "Let me
introduce my friends. Dr. Gilbert Connor and Miss Shannon Flynn."

"Yes. I've heard about the both of you. A pleasure." He shook their hands. Shannon was
reminded of the older officers that were commonly depicted in the movies of the 1940's;
slightly greying hair, trim mustache, and a neatly creased uniform. All that was missing was a swagger stick.

Alan was looking at the stellar map on the wall. "Jason told me that Intelligence says it's
Raven. What do you think?"

"It's his MO. He sends in men to stir up trouble who then talk about 'a man named Raven'
who can solve their problems. The dissatisfied send for him and he wipes out the government and the people install him as their leader."

"That's an old trick," remarked Shannon.

"Yeah, but it works for him," Alan said with a smirk.

"I hate to rush you, but we're scheduled to take-off in less than an hour. You and Dr.
Connor will have to bunk together because most of the living quarters aren't completed."

"What? I didn't--"

"The First Admiral requested you go along as scientific officer."

Gil didn't know what to say. Alan did. "What about Shannon?"

Kotsovitch failed to hide his embarrassment. "The First Admiral expressed some concern for Miss Flynn and decided it was best for her to stay here since she has little knowledge of how things are in this time plus the fact that she is a civilian." He turned to Shannon. "I'm genuinely sorry, Miss Flynn. If the decision were mine, you would be joining us."

Alan was furious. "C'mon, Pieter. You know she can handle herself! You read the files."

"Alan, it's okay. The Admiral is just being protective in case something happens. I mean, I've gone places those people have only read about. Have a safe trip and return in one piece." She gave them a sad smile and left the office.

"I feel so guilty," said Gil.

"You had nothing to do with it. It was a Military decision--and a rotten one at that."

The Admiral's intercom buzzed. "The Dreadnought is ready for you, sir. The Kellys
and their pilots are aboard and waiting for you."

"Thank you. That's our cue, gentlemen."

"Go on. I'll meet you there. I've got something to pick up in my quarters." He left them.

"We'll hold it, but no longer than fifteen minutes!" Kotsovitch called after him. "Where do you think he's really going?"

"I think he's heading for Shannon to try and apologise," Gil said as he walked with Kotsovitch to the hangar and the Dreadnought.

* * * *

Gil was partially correct. Alan did stop at his quarters to pick up his uniform. On his way
back, he knocked on the door to Shannon's rooms. No answer. He checked all the spots
where she used to hang out and even asked a few friends. No one had seen her.

He checked his watch. Pieter was going to take-off in five minutes. It would be close. He
raced down the halls but arrived too late, the Dreadnought was rising into the air. He looked around and saw a Kelly waiting. He ran over and saw his name stencilled on the side. Kotsovitch was smarter than he looked. Alan jumped inside and moved the fighter into the open the set off. He put his transmitter on the proper frequency and raised the bridge.
"FX601 calling Admiral Kotsovitch of Dreadnought. Sorry to have missed take-off
and request permission to enter landing bay."

Kotsovitch smiled. "Certainly, FX601. Permission granted."

The pilots who were checking their ships watched as the new fighter manoeuvred itself into position. They noticed the number was the first of the series making it a very special ship. It was Hernandez who spotted the name. "We're in the presence of greatness, boys. This is our commanding officer, Maj. Alan Kelly himself." Alan released the hatch and clambered out of the cockpit, returning the salute of the gathered Rangers. He jumped onto the floor and was greeted more informally. "It's good to have you back, Major," said Hernandez.

"Great to be back, even though on a temporary basis."

"Still involved with that hush-hush, eh?" asked Lt. Carter.

"Yep. Officially, I'm still part of the Military and the Rangers so I was reassigned to this
mission."

Alan made his way to the bridge and surprised a few people along the route. Obviously,
Pieter hadn't told anyone that he was the first choice for Squadron Leader. Maybe it was
because his availability wasn't a sure thing. The door to the bridge slid open and the usual
business of Operations stopped as the officers turned and stared. Alan smiled. Pieter shook
his hand and Gil laughed. "You knew I wouldn't make it, didn't you?"

"I merely suspected. If you had made it, the ship would have been loaded with the others."

"Did you find Shane to say good-bye?" asked Gil.

"No. No one had seen her, either. I checked all her favourite places." He noticed that
everyone else was getting back to work and he felt out-of-place. He also didn't want people
listening-in on their conversation. "Is there anywhere quiet we can go?"

"I can't leave the bridge until we exit the atmosphere, but Dr. Connor knows the way to your quarters. That should be quiet enough."

"Should be. Thanks, Pieter."

Walking down the corridor, Gil wanted to pursue the conversation, but Alan held him off.
On the way, they passed an observation deck. He paused to look out onto the receding
Earth. "I'm worried about Shane. I think not coming along really put her out. I wanted to
apologise to her for the whole thing."

"It wasn't your fault, Alan. You can't argue with the First Admiral's orders."

"Yeah, I know. I don't know what she'll do. I mean, I feel like we're her only friends. I
should have tried harder for her to come along."

"Shane will think of something," Gil said to try and cheer him up.

"That's for sure." Alan put on a smile then set himself the task of getting used to being on a battle-cruiser again.

* * * *

Life aboard the Dreadnought was interesting to say the least. A few social gatherings
were held so that the crew members could get to know each other. Alan began to find them somewhat tedious because there was only so much "new" conversation you could have with people with whom you shared experiences. To keep himself and the Rangers from getting too complacent, he decided to have drills. He divided them in half and had Gil devise
simulations and load them into the fighters' computers.

"How will we be able to tell each other apart, sir?" asked Carter.

"I've had Dr. Connor fix a small transmitter to one team which will emit a signal so you'll
know which side you're shooting at. Any more questions? Okay, let's do some flying!"

Alan positioned himself out of the scrimmage but close enough to witness everything. He was impressed with these pilots and realised that the Falcon Division deserved being called the
best of the Rangers, the creme de la creme. They had always been a close second to
his own, the Hawks, but that was before his "retirement".

[Having fun, Alan?]

"Gil? What did you do?"

[Oh, I just fixed up a little private com-link, that's all. I even have two vid-cams set up: one to see you and the other to see where you're going.]

"Don't you have anything else to do?"

[Not now. Besides, this is probably the closest I'll get to being a fighter pilot.]

"Okay. I'm going to give you a few tips so maybe you'll learn something."

[I promise to keep quiet.]

"You guys have great stuff," he told them. "You've got it down to a science. What you need, however, is a bit of polish and style." He heard a few groans. "The Falcons are known to be
the best, right? So wouldn't it be nice to be even better?" No reply. "Hey, I don't coach
everybody!"

"Okay, 'Coach', what do you want us to start with?"

"Evasion tactics are usually the best. In the pioneer days of flying, they were known as
barnstorming acrobatics. Now, I want you to imagine that I am an enemy ship and chase me so that I can give you a demonstration. I'll switch off my link so you can plan amongst
yourselves. Let me know when you're ready by lining up."

Once the link was off, Gil spoke up. [What are you trying to pull?]

"I'm giving them an edge. Most forces fight with the same tactics. My little extras will be
unexpected."

[Suit yourself. It looks like they're ready for you.]

The Falcons were lined up, waiting. Alan acknowledged them by heading straight for them.
They broke formation and followed. Alan dove, rolled, and even did a loop-de-loop. Some
followed but weren't as experienced. They then tried to catch him in a pincer movement. He had been waiting for something like this. He pointed the nose vertical at a 90 degree angle. The Falcons had to swerve and dive to avoid hitting each other. They watched as he banked left, then turned and straightened as he aimed for the Dreadnought's landing bay.

"I don't believe it," murmured Carter.

"Gentlemen, we have just witnessed the famed 'Ace's High' manoeuvre," said Hernandez. "A true genius. The man is a true genius."

"Thus concludes out lesson for today, gentlemen. Tomorrow will be your turn." He called in
for clearance and led the fighters in. Once docked, he waited for them, helmet in hand.

"That was beautiful flying, Major," said Carter. "A work of art."

"How would you care to join us for a drink?" asked Hernandez.

"Maybe another time. Right now I have to talk with someone."

Alan marched into his room. "Thanks for the surprise, Gil. Did you have a nice time?"

Gil looked up from the VDU. "Before you have a fit, take a look at this."

Alan came over and joined him. The VDU was showing the drills from Alan's point of view.
"I didn't know you were recording all that."

"Of course. You didn't think I did it for personal reasons, did you? You can use it to help in your exercises. Wait, this is the best part." The screen began to show the picture of zooming stars. The angle changed as the ship banked then dropped. "That has got to be the next best thing to being there."

Alan looked at the screen then back to his friend. "Fantastic! Let's celebrate!"

"Alan, it's only a simple camera."

"But it's a teaching innovation. Let me buy you a drink."

They went into the bar and Alan introduced Gil to the Falcons. They knew how he fit into
Alan's story and they could see the effect his presence had on him. Alan's whole demeanour had changed and they noticed how relaxed he was, less tense. "How about a snack? Want
anything?"

"We already tried, Major," said Lt. Miller, "but they won't serve you. They said something
about a miscalculation in the food stores, so they're cutting back."

"No snacks, eh? Well, I guess I can wait till dinner."

Alan and Gil stayed and talked with the men for about two hours. Before they left, Alan told them to gather at 1100 hours in the mess hall. "There's a little something I want to show you. If we have time afterwards, we'll do some drills. See you then."

As they walked down the corridor, Alan kept on about his new method of training. "This is
going to be great! It'll give them a pilot's-eye-view of the manoeuvres."

"The success of it depends on their reaction, you know. It won't go very far if they don't like it."

"You don't understand because you're not a pilot. They'll like it."

A message came across the speaker system. "The Dreadnought will be entering
warp-drive in thirty minutes. All personnel are asked to clear the corridors." There was a
slight pause. "Will Maj. Kelly and Dr. Connor please report to the bridge."

"I wonder what's going on?" Alan started to trot down the hall. "C'mon, Gil."

"Why? The bridge isn't going anywhere," he said as he reluctantly ran with his friend.

They arrived on the bridge and were greeted by Kotsovitch. "We are about to receive our
final direct transmission from Earth and a preliminary message specifically requested that the both of you be present."

A few moments later, the transmission came through from the First Admiral. "As you know, this is our last direct communication before you leave range. Our reports have located what we think is Raven's headquarters on Lethe. There also seems to be a watchpoint on its moon Acheron. I can't tell you how important this mission is and I wish you good luck. Further
reports will be relayed to you." He looked off-screen. "There is someone here with an
important message for Maj. Kelly and Dr. Connor."

Jason appeared on the screen. He did not look happy. "I hate to be the one to tell you
this..."

"No," Alan groaned. "N-n-n-o-o-o."

"I'm afraid so. Cameron's escaped. He must've smuggled something in with him."

"Wonderful security," Gil murmured.

"That's not all. We tried to locate Shannon to tell her, but no one could find her. I hate to think the worst, but it's a possibility. We'll keep you posted."

"You'd better have good news or I'll polish off Raven and come find him myself!"

As Alan ranted and raved, Gil apologised. "Thanks, Jason. Alan just has a lot on his mind
right now. If Shane is with Cameron, he's got his hands full!"

Jason smiled weakly and signed-off. "I should have killed Cameron when I had the chance!
If he's hurt her, I'll enjoy watching him suffer."

Kotsovitch tried to calm him down. "We all know how you must feel, Alan, but you can't let this interfere with our mission. You can use this anger against Raven when we find him.
Pretend he is Cameron. It might make you feel a bit better."

"Think about it," said Gil. "Raven could be a rehearsal, a warm-up."

Alan slowly began to settle down. "Before, I wanted to get Raven for all the things he's done, and now, I just want him out of the way so I can go after Cameron."

"Fifteen minutes to warp, sir," called a young female officer.

"Thank you, Collins." Kotsovitch turned to Alan and Gil. "The two of you are welcome to
witness from the bridge if you wish. It's quite a spectacular sight."

"Maybe it'll help take my mind off things," Alan remarked.

He and Gil sat in chairs that were out-of-the-way yet provided a view of where they were
going. Collins relayed the countdown to the rest of the ship, providing enough time for
everyone to find a secure place. Once the accustomed to the G-force, Alan and Gil watched
the stars pass by as streaks of light. Gil's expression was one of awe. Never before had he
seen such a marvellous sight. It was over quite soon, just under five minutes' time, but they had covered the same distance it would have taken five months at normal speed. Ah, the wonders on modern science.

* * * *

The following day at practice, Alan reiterated the importance of their mission. "Now that we have passed beyond Earth's range, we are relatively on our own. We may get help from some outposts, but we can't depend on that. We must train ourselves in these manoeuvres till we don't have to think about them. I have a vid here that I want you to pay attention to." A groan rose from the audience. "Yes, another training vid, but one with a twist." He started it.

Carter was the first to catch on. "Hey, that's us from yesterday!" How did you get this?"

"Dr. Connor hooked it up without telling me. When I saw it, I thought it would be a unique
way for you to see how things look when you do 'em right."

After having them watch the vid a few times, Alan took them out for some more drills. Some of them definitely had the talent. A few brave hearts attempted "Aces' High" but had to pull out. "Don't worry, fellas. It took me a few times before I could do it."

[Yeah, three or four] said Gil over their link.

Alan ignored that. "As far as I know, there is only one other pilot who can do it. We learned it together at the Academy."

"Whatever happened to him?" asked Carter. "The only one they talk about is you."

"He left the Military about three years ago, under less than sterling conditions so I'm not too surprised."

"You mean he deserted?"

"Yep." Talking about Eric put Alan in a melancholy mood. "That's enough for today,
gentlemen. You're all making wonderful progress. We'll try again tomorrow."

"You got it, Major," said Hernandez.

Flying back to the Dreadnought, Alan listened to their conversations. "I saw the most
beautiful girl the other day in the mess. She was dressed in engineers' overalls and smudged with grease, but she was still beautiful."

"Every girl is beautiful to you, Hernandez," laughed one of the others, Alan couldn't tell who.

"She had the deepest green eyes and shiny red hair. I can't believe that I haven't seen her
before."

"Maybe she heard all about you." That was Johnson.

"Very funny. But I'm gonna find out who she is and then the joke'll be on you."

Unbidden, Shannon's face appeared in Alan's mind. Granted, the description of Hernandez's mystery lady could fit Shannon, but the more logical reason was because of the news that
both she and Cameron were missing.

* * * *

Two days and a warp later, Alan was awakened by a blaring siren. The enemy had been sighted! He grabbed his boots and put them on as he ran down the hall to the lift that would take him to the launch area. "All right, guys, this is the real thing! Let's teach those mercs a thing or two about flying!"

"We're with you, Major!"

Alan gave the launch crew the 'thumbs up" signal then flew out into space. Raven had quite a collection of ships, all of which looked very beat-up. "This should be easy," said one of them. Alan thought it might be Collier.

"These pilots are mercenaries and have their own way of fighting. Those ships may not look
like much, but they probably have some of the best engines and weapons hidden. I want you
all to be careful and no showing off. Okay?"

The Falcons lived up to their name and shot down most of Raven's ships. Because of his
expertise, Alan was marked as a priority target. An old, revamped TR-7 took it upon itself
to be the one to shoot him down. Alan tried to shake him of, but he stayed close. "Enough
of this book-flying." Alan looped around behind him and began to fire. "Let's see you top
that!" Alan wished he had kept his mouth shut. The TR-7 rose vertically at high speed then
banked left. He had done "Aces"! Alan followed his moves exactly. He knew who it was.
He switched radio frequencies and tried to hail the pilot.

*******************************

"What is going on out there?" yelled Kotsovitch to no one in particular. "Collins, I want you to raise Kelly on the link."

"We've been trying, sir. He must have changed frequencies."

"Get one of the others, then."

"Yes, sir."

A few seconds later, Hernandez's voice came over the system. "They're putting up a pretty
good fight, sir, but we've still got them beat."

"What about Kelly?"

"He and an enemy pilot were locked in a real dogfight, sir. The other pilot is fantastic,
Admiral. He can do the 'Aces High'."

"That other pilot is Academy-trained, Admiral. He's the only other pilot besides Alan who
can do that manoeuvre."

"What's his name, Doctor?"

"I only know of him, not his name," Gil lied. As a matter-of-fact, he had met Eric a few
times. Eric, how could you? he thought.

"Sir, this is Hernandez. The Major's been hit! Can't raise contact, radio must be out. Please advise."

"You and another pilot follow and run interference. Watch where he lands so we can send a
shuttle to pick him up." Kotsovitch turned to Gil. "What do you think of his chances?" He
received no answer because Gil had left the bridge.

* * * *

Alan tried to save his oxygen. Eric's shot must have ruptured the tanks. His starboard engine was on fire. "A fine way to greet an old friend," he mumbled. He switched back to the proper frequency. "Dreadnought, this is Falcon One. Have lost starboard engine and much oxygen. Will try to set down on planet's surface. Will send co-ordinates ASAP." Nothing
answered but static.

A fighter appeared on each side and Alan recognised Hernandez and Johnson. He realised
that they were flying protective escort so he could concentrate on trying to land. Then the
unimaginable happened. A stray laser hit his port engine and he lost all drive. Things
wouldn't have been too bad if he hadn't been pulled into the planet's gravitational force. He could feel his ship burning as it plunged into the atmosphere. If he didn't slow down, he'd be dead before impact.

[Alan, what's going on?]

"Gil, thank God. I've lost both engines, the oxygen's leaking, and my ship is burning up.
Other than that, nothing exciting."

[Hold on. Maybe we can get one of the Falcons to throw out a cable. That should help slow you down.] Gil ran to his intercom. "Admiral, have one of them give Alan a cable.
He has to slow down or he'll be baked." He then went back to his VDU.

"Thanks, pal. I just hope I don't drag them down with me."

[They'll be able to use their retros.]

The cables worked like a charm. While still above the planet's surface, the TR-7 returned in
a final pass. He saw what was happening and severed the line with one blast. Alan's ship
crashed and exploded on impact.

Gil stared at the blank screen. His best friend was gone. The strange thing was that he felt no grief, no anger, nothing. He replayed the incident and slowed it down when Eric broke the cables. He started to feel anger. How could Eric do this? He and Alan had been the best of friends. He watched as Alan plummeted to the ground. All of a sudden, the strong belief that Alan was alive overcame him. After everything he had been through, Alan
wouldn't die like this. He went to the landing bay to wait for Hernandez and Johnson. He
wanted to hear what they had to say before they spoke to anyone else.

They saw him and came over. "We're sorry, Doctor, but there was nothing else we could
do," said Hernandez.

"The cables were a great idea. At least it saved him from a slow death." Johnson tried to
rationalise it.

"I don't think he's dead."

"But, Doc, we saw his ship blow."

"That doesn't mean he was in it. Would you be willing to fly a search party?"

"I think you'd have a hard time finding someone who wouldn't. Right, Hernandez?"

Hernandez was looking past them towards the hangars. "There she is. Do you see her?"

"What is he talking about?"

"He claims there's a mystery girl on board that hasn't fallen for his charms yet."

"I'm gonna prove it." Hernandez ran to the hangars , and, after a short chase, brought out a
red-head in overalls, kicking and fighting him. "Told you."

Gil looked at her in disbelief. "Shannon! What are you doing here?"

* * * *

Alan woke up with his head spinning. That was the first sign that he was alive. Heaven
wouldn't hurt so much. Alive. How had he managed that? He must have been flung from the wreck before impact. He tried to get a good look at his surroundings but the room was too
dark. He attempted to rise from the bed and one of the shadows spoke. "Don't try to move, you're still too groggy."

Alan tried to focus on the voice. "Where am I?"

"In one of Raven's rooms. He seems to have it in for you, Major. You must have done
something to really upset him."

"Yeah, well, we each have our own jobs to do, I guess. When will I get to see him?"

"He wanted to wait until you were awake enough to enjoy it. I think he has something special in mind for you."

The door opened and a shaft of light pierced the room. Alan's guard pulled back into the
shadows, but not before he was recognised. "What do you want?" he asked, annoyed.

"Raven wants to know if he's awake," answered the creep at the door.

"Tell him we'll be right there." The man left.

"Your new friends have a certain charm, Eric. Is that what attracted you to them?"

"No," said Eric, entering the light. "It was the money." He watched as Alan tried to stand.

"Should have known. You always were one to make a quick buck."

"And you were always the hero, fighting for justice. Things haven't changed, have they?"

"Except we're on different sides now. What made you do it?"

"The thrill. It's the same as the Rangers, Alan, except that I only have to answer to myself
and not some fat admiral that sits on his butt all day." He walked beside Alan down the hall.

"How did you get back into the Rangers, anyway? Last I heard, you were forced to retire."

Alan condensed his story into a few minutes. "So you see, the top brass aren't all bad."

"Maybe you're right." Eric knocked on a double door. There was a muffled response from
within and Eric opened it then followed Steven inside.

Bram Raven stood from behind his antique desk. He was a tall, broody man with strong,
chiselled facial features. He had jet black hair and dark eyes. He gave Alan an appraising
look. "So you're a major now. Congratulations on your promotion." His voice was soft. "I
see you have recognised an old friend. I must admit I felt quite proud when he decided to
join us."

"I'm sure you were, Raven. It's not every mercenary who's had Academy training."

"So true, Major." He walked to a side table and poured whisky out of a crystal decanter.

"You didn't bring me here to pour whisky down my throat. I think you'd rather slit it."

"Don't push it, Alan," cautioned Eric.

"Oh, it's part of an old tradition I've read about," said Raven. "Two enemies drink together
then go out a fight a duel."

"You're going to trust me in a fighter? You're more stupid than I thought."

Raven laughed. "That is hardly traditional, Major. I mean pistols at ten paces. For the most part, they were usually carried out at dawn, but we will make an exception."

Alan was well-acquainted with the use of many weapons from swords to lasers. He
wondered if Raven knew this, Eric certainly did. "Oh, how Regency of you, Raven. I'm
surprised you're not serving tea and crumpets."

"Such a quick wit, Major." Raven finished his drink. "If I can't interest you in a whisky, we might as well begin."

* * * *

Gil and the pilots stared at her. "What are you doing here?"

"I stowed away. I didn't want to be left out. I lived in the ducts and came out for meals."

"I knew I wasn't going crazy," said Hernandez.

"Will someone please tell me what's going on."

Hernandez looked at Gil. "I guess it's up to me." He looked her in the eyes. "Alan's ship
blew up down on the planet. They think he was killed."

"And you don't."

"No. I replayed the video of the crash and I think he was thrown clear."

"Even if he did survive the crash, it only means that Raven has him now."

"Yes, but where there's life, there's hope." Shannon looked at the two pilots who smiled.

"What are we doing standing here? We have a rescue mission to organise!"

They reported to Kotsovitch on the bridge. If he was surprised to see Shannon, he didn't
show it. "And what have you to recount?"

"We have reason to believe that Maj. Kelly survived the crash and is Raven's prisoner," said
Johnson.

"Did you happen to notice where he went down? The location of Raven's headquarters?

How many men he has?" They said nothing. "I thought so. Gentlemen, we must realise what we are up against before we commit ourselves. I like Kelly as much as you, but we must wait until we have more information."

"Yes, sir."

As they walked down the corridor, Shannon was mumbling under her breath, then she began to smile. "The Rangers are a separate entity from the Dreadnought, right? If that's the case, then the Admiral can't really do anything about it once you take off."

"I'd hate to have you as an enemy," remarked Hernandez.

"The hard part will be getting to your ships."

"No problem at all, Doc. When the others hear, there will be such a rush to the launch area,
no way will we be stopped!"

Johnson was right. The other Rangers at the mere mention of rescue were heading out the
door. Gil and Shannon watched them go knowing there was nothing else they could do.

On the bridge, Collins reported that all of the Rangers had launched and were heading
towards Acheron. "Do you want me to call them back, sir?"

Kotsovitch watched them on the screen. "They'd only ignore me," he said with a half-smile.
"I only hope they know what they're doing."

* * * *

Alan and Raven faced each other across an enclosed garden. Alan noticed a few holes in
one of the walls. "Done this before, have you? And I thought I was special."

"Oh, but you are, Major. Show him his weapon, Rader." Eric walked over to him with a
long case and opened it to reveal two rapiers. "You see, Major, I have made an exception
for you."

Alan picked one and tested its strength. "Beautiful sword, Raven. Where did you steal it
from?"

"That would be confessing, wouldn't it?" Raven took the remaining sword. "You are aware
of how this will proceed?"

"Relatively. I'm sure I'll catch on."

"If you have time."

After putting down the case, Eric stood back and dropped the white cloth that signalled the beginning of the duel. He watched as Alan and Raven circled each other. Looking at him,
Eric thought that Alan seemed more at home with a sword in his hand than a pistol. He knew Alan had an affinity for weapons but he now realised how proficient he was.

Raven lunged but Alan deftly blocked it. Alan parried and feinted with seeming ease which
only caused Raven further aggravation. "You haven't had much practice, Raven. You should never challenge anyone unless you know for a fact that you're better."

They stood facing each other, swords crossed, neither giving way, when engines were heard. Shots were also fired and targets burst into flame. One of Raven's lieutenants came running into the garden. "Rangers, sir! The sky is full of 'em!"

With renewed enthusiasm, Alan pushed Raven away. "We Rangers are a very loyal bunch, Bram. They think I'm dead and are out for revenge." He started heading for the gate.

"Nothing is that easy, Kelly," he said with a snarl, his hand reaching for his pocket.

Two low-flying fighters passed overhead firing at the buildings and walls causing general
confusion. Alan felt a tug on his arm. "C'mon, follow me." Eric led him through the town to an old barn. Alan helped him open the wide doors and saw a beautiful streamlined fighter
hidden under a tarp and straw.

"Isn't this the Sky Hawk, the ship you left in?"

"Yep." Eric began to clear the jets. "I decided to make this home considering it's more or
less the hub of the Outreaches. A few of the locals knew this was here and kept it from
Raven."

"What made you change sides back there?"

"You mentioned the loyalties of Rangers which really made me think. Once a Ranger, always a Ranger."

"Thanks for saving my skin back there."

"We're not out of it yet." He tossed Alan his pistol. "Keep an eye on the doors. They'll be back soon, this place isn't that small. I'll get the engines started."

Alan went to the doors and peered out. "Hurry it up, Eric. They're heading this way." The
engines coughed and started. "They heard you!" Alan began firing at the mercenaries as Eric slowly drove the ship out the doors.

"Hurry, get in!"

"Don't let them get away!" cried Raven. "I especially want Kelly!"

Alan found a foothold in the side of the fighter and climbed up amidst the fire. As he reached up to pull himself into the rear cockpit, he felt a searing pain in his left wrist. He clutched it close to his body and tumbled inside. "Okay, go!" he hissed as he pushed the button to close the hatch.

"Yes, sir!" The Sky Hawk climbed into the sky leaving a fuming Raven on the
ground. "It'll be weird, turning myself in. What do you think they'll do?" Receiving no
answer, Eric turned to see Alan passed out, clasping his bloody hand.

* * * *

On the bridge of the Dreadnought, the crew listened to the fighters. "This is Smitty. I've just picked up a ship taking off from near HQ."

"Run a type-scan on it. We've got to find out what we're up against," said Johnson.

"It's telling me that the ship is a type built 50 years ago!"

"Impossible!" declared Hernandez.

"I see it now," said Carter. "Let me try something. Just what I thought. It's a modified QV-2 that was stolen a few years back from a private owner. It was known as the Sky
Hawk
."

"A stolen Earth ship, eh? We'd better try to bring it back in one piece."

"Collins, I want a report on the Sky Hawk and its modifications including weapons,"
ordered Kotsovitch.

Shannon looked at Gil. "Do you have any idea what's going on?"

"More of a faint hope."

"Sir, your requested information should be appearing on your screen."

Kotsovitch read the report. The Sky Hawk was an experimental plane. It had two
cockpits and was equipped with lasers fore and aft, and the capability to carry bombs. The
engines were being prepared for warp drive when it was stolen by Capt. Eric Rader, AWOL
from the Rangers. Rader' personal file followed. He graduated 2nd in his class (a tenth of a percentage point behind Kelly) and had a very good Military record. The reason for his
desertion was not known, but it was general attributed to his dislike for the brass.

Over some static, the Dreadnought received a message. "Sky Hawk calling
Dreadnought. Requesting permission to land. Please respond."

Collins looked at the Admiral. "What do we do, sir?"

"Give him permission, but have a couple of Rangers escort him in."

"Very good, sir." Collins relayed the message.

"Thank you, Dreadnought. Better alert medics. We have a wounded man here, I
think it's his hand."

"Notify the sick-bay, Collins. I'm going down to the landing bay." Kotsovitch turned to Gil
and Shannon. "Shall we go? He may know what happened to Alan."

"Unless the wounded man is Alan," murmured Shannon.

Eric piloted the Sky Hawk towards the Dreadnought, sandwiched between two Rangers. "Hold on, buddy. Not much longer." He followed the lead ship and parked the Hawk beside him. He saw the medics arrive and opened the hatch and undid Alan's safety strap. One of the medics brought a stretcher and helped Eric fasten him in. He also tightly wrapped a bandage around Alan's wrist.

After Alan was safely in the hands of the medics and on the way to the sickbay, Eric turned
to Kotsovitch, held out his arms, and said, "My name is Capt. Eric Rader, wanted by the
Alliance Military for desertion. I'm here to turn myself in."

Kotsovitch had no choice and Eric was taken away to a detention cell.

* * * *

Shannon and Gil watched from the viewing room as Alan was operated on. His face was pale and sweaty from shock. The reconstructive surgery would take time; how long, the doctors couldn't say. "Any turbulence and it could kill him," Gil whispered.

After two hours, they were still operating. Gil let Shannon nod off, knowing that they would be operating for awhile yet, and that sleep would do her good. The intercom buzzed for
Admiral Kotsovitch. "Sir, this is Collins. We've just picked up some hostiles on-screen.
They're coming from Acheron."

"I was expecting something like this. Notify the Rangers and put Hernandez in charge." He
looked into the operating theatre. "Too bad he can't fly. None of the new boys even come
close."

"If you don't mind my saying so, there is one pilot here who holds the second highest GPA in the history of the Academy."

"You have to mean Rader."

"I know he's done wrong, but I think he's shown himself worthy of some trust."

"The man is a deserter, Doctor. That is akin to treason."

"He's the best available pilot you've got!" Gil's voice started to rise. "C'mon, give him a
chance. If he does anything, you'll have armed fighters up there to keep him in line."

Kotsovitch looked at Gil's face and saw trust, hope, and anger. "Against my better
judgement, I'll take your advice." He placed a call to the detention centre and had them
escort Eric to the launch area. "This had better work, Dr. Connor." Kotsovitch left for the
bridge.

"What's up?" Shannon mumbled, waking up.

"Raven's men are attacking the ship. I've talked the Admiral into letting Eric fly. We need
every fighter possible to keep them from the ship. A hit in the wrong place could mean Alan's life."

Eric was sitting in his cell wondering what would happen to him once he arrived back on
Earth. Probably a life sentence; that was what deserters got. He looked up and saw two
guards turning off the barrier." "What's going on?"

"You're to come with us."

"And if I refuse?"

"We have our orders," one said, motioning with his pistol.

"Okay, okay." Eric followed them.

Their journey was quiet and Eric found himself in the launch area. Hernandez and Johnson
walked over to him. "You've been ordered into the air, Captain," Hernandez said. "You are
the most senior officer here and we need all our fighters. The Admiral has said that we must keep them from hitting at all costs, especially near the sickbay. Any strike could mean Maj.
Kelly's life."

Eric was stunned. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess." He eyed the
ships. "Which do I take?"

"The Sky Hawk is the only free one. Remember, if you do anything to help the
mercenaries, we have orders to shoot. Is that clear?"

Eric saluted. "Yes, sir!"

The Falcons climbed into their ships then headed for open space. Hernandez kept a careful
eye on Eric and was impressed with his flying. This pilot had to be the one that Kelly talked about. He was flying circles around his old "acquaintances", knowing their methods.

"Hawk, there's one on your tail," he called over the radio. Eric flew around behind
and shot him down. He remembered the conversation he had with Johnson before they took off and Johnson's distrust of Eric.

A shout came over his link. "Hernandez, where is that guy? I can't see him anywhere!"

"He's somewhere behind you."

"You're certainly doing a good job of keeping an eye on him!"

"I could say the same for you! Hey, you've got one tagging you! Shake him off!"

"It's no use, the guy's on me like glue!" The mercenary fired and Johnson lost his starboard
engine. "Can't hold on much longer, some of my controls are beginning to short."

"Head back to the Dreadnought. I'll be there as soon as I can." Hernandez's
computer registered an explosion in the area where Johnson was. "Johnson! Johnson! Are
you there?"

"Affirmative, Captain," said a new voice that Hernandez recognised as Eric's. "That was a
mercenary. I am now proceeding to lead Capt. Johnson back to the ship. I think he'll have
to sit the rest of this one out."

Eric looked at his screen and saw that the cable to Johnson's ship was secure. He towed him slowly back to the landing bay and climbed out to check on Johnson. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, a little shaken is all. The ship's had it, though."

"Well, at least you're all right. I'd better get back out there." Eric started to climb back into the Hawk.

"Captain? Thanks."

"Sure thing, Captain." Eric smiled as he buckled up. It seemed as if he had won over his
strongest opponent. He flew back and closed in on Raven's ship.

Raven saw him coming. "I want you to make passes at the ship. There has to be something
special on it or they wouldn't take such pains to protect it. I'll take care of Capt. Rader."

Eric headed straight for him, refusing to give way. It was the old-fashioned game of Chicken.

Raven was the first to swerve. Eric turned and followed him to the Dreadnought. "What
does he think he's doing?" yelled Kotsovitch on the bridge. "Captain Hernandez, I want you to stop him at all costs!"

"Wait a minute, sir. He's attacking Raven from underneath, firing away from the
Dreadnought."

Hernandez was right. Eric had positioned himself between Raven and the ship. Nothing was going to ruin his chance at redemption. "You're not going to talk me into anything again," he said as he fired at the underbelly of Raven's ship.

Raven dodged. "It's not going to be that easy. I know that you will let nothing happen to that ship." He began to fire at the Dreadnought, every shot getting closer to the sickbay.

Eric fired at Raven's guns, putting them beyond repair and also placed a hit on his engines.
"Let's see you get out of this one."

Raven's ship was a virtual fireball and he was losing control. There was one channel open to him. He aimed his ship straight at the Dreadnought. "Oh, my God," everyone seemed to whisper together. The Rangers saw that there was nothing they could do in time. This was the end. Without the Dreadnought there was no way home. Eric, however, saw a way out. He aimed the nose of the Hawk at the midsection of Raven's ship. He rammed it and proceeded to take it out of range. He knew that there was a strong possibility that he would die when Raven's ship blew up. At least he'd go out with a bang.

* * * *

Those on the bridge watched in amazement as Eric pushed the deadly fireball out of range.
"Get them on the long-range scanners. I want to know what happens."

Kotsovitch headed for the sickbay to check on Alan's condition. Gil and Shannon were
waiting for him. "What's happening? Why is it quiet all of a sudden?"

"Eric's turned Raven's ship into a fireball and rammed him before he could hit the ship."

"So where's Eric? Are they having a celebratory party for him?"

Kotsovitch hated to ruin her good mood so he asked about Alan. "The medics say that he
should be okay, There was irreparable damage to some nerves and blood vessels so they
gave him cybernetic implants," Gil told him.

"What if the body should refuse them?"

"You mean as foreign objects? The chances of that are low in this stage of the game. The
cybernetics are treated before they are implanted so that the body will accept them. Their
main worry is whether or not the bone will heal properly. There still is no way to predict
that."

"Have you seen him yet?"

"He's still unconscious so we have to wait," said Shannon. "I bet Eric will be glad to know
he's okay."

The intercom buzzed. "Kotsovitch here."

"Sir, our long-range detectors just picked up a large explosion in Quadrant 4. The computer
says that no one could have survived."

"Thank you, Collins."

Shannon looked at him. "You can't mean that Eric.....Eric's dead."

"He gave his life for the Dreadnought and the Rangers, Miss. Flynn. He knew that a
court-martial was waiting for him and he thought that this last act would wipe the slate clean."

"Would it have?"

"It's academic now."

"But would it have? If you had to decide his case, would this make you chose a more lenient penalty?"

Kotsovitch was saved from answering when a young medic told them that Alan was awake and asking for them. "Don't be too long. He still needs sleep."

Shannon cautiously opened the door. He smiled and called her in. "I'm not on my deathbed, y'know."

"For awhile, we thought you were," remarked Gil.

"Whose idea was it to send the Rangers? I know the Military thinks it a waste to send that
many for one man."

"Quite right, Major. As a matter-of-fact, it was Miss Flynn's idea."

"That reminds me," he said, easing his casted left arm, "what are you doing here?"

"I stowed away. Good thing, too. If I hadn't, you'd be rotting away down there."

"Either that or blown up in space." They said nothing. "What's the matter? Where's Eric?"

They didn't answer. "C'mon, tell me. It can't be that bad."

"I'm afraid it is, Alan," said Kotsovitch. "He's dead."

"How did it happen? I thought you would have had him locked up in a detention cell."

"It's my fault," said Gil. "Raven was attacking and I convinced the Admiral he needed all the pilots he could get."

Kotsovitch told Alan what had happened. "He fought well."

Alan didn't know what to say. Eric had saved his life twice in less than twenty-four hours. "I want to hold a memorial service for him tonight."

"What about your rest?"

"I'll take a nap. I want to let the crew know what a great pilot and friend he was."

"I'm sure most of them know already," murmured Gil.

"I'll make the announcement," said Kotsovitch.

* * * *

That evening, Alan found himself the centre of attention for two reasons: his close call and
rescue, and for the loss of his close friend. The one who expressed the most guilt and
remorse was Johnson. "I didn't want to fly with him," he said with whisky-laden breath. "I
thought he was a spy for Raven. When he towed me back, he proved different. How could
I have been so wrong?"

"Don't worry about it now. I'll admit I had my doubts in the beginning. I'm sure Gil did too. We knew the Eric of old."

"The man was a fantastic pilot," said Hernandez. "The second-best I've ever seen."

(The computer on the bridge announced the arrival of a ship. No one was there to hear it,
but once the pilot gave the proper code, the computer allowed it to enter the bay unchecked.
The ship was battered and scorched. Its mere presence proved that both it and the pilot
were of a special quality. the pilot stood on wobbly legs and looked around, amazed to find
the bridge empty of people. He set off in search of an explanation. As he passed the mess
hall, he heard voices.)

"I don't think he would have been court-martialed had he lived. That was a major sacrifice
and he should be honoured for it. I think I will recommend that his record be cleared and he
be posthumously promoted."

"That would renew his faith in the Military hierarchy if it works."

The pilot entered the room and saw the majority of the crew--all that could fit into the
room--had on black armbands. They were in mourning. He saw a man with his left arm in a
sling and approached him. "What's this all for?" he asked, his voice muffled by his helmet.

"This is a memorial service for a friend," he answered, staring at the strange pilot. "Where
have you been that you missed the announcement?"

"Out getting rid of refuse." He removed his helmet.

"Eric!" Alan hugged him. "We all thought you were dead! Gil and Pieter told me what you
did. Still showing off, eh?"

"Somebody had to since you were laid up." He sat down. "Can somebody get me a drink?
I'm parched."

"How did you survive the blast?" asked Hernandez.

"I knew that his ship was about to go and I put on the retros. When the ship blew, the
explosion blasted me halfway here." Someone pushed a beer into his hand and he gulped it
down. "I think I'm ready to face my court-martial now."

"When we get back in contact with Earth, we can tell them all that happened," said Shannon.

"Perhaps they can have your case prepared and ready by the time we arrive."

"Either that or march me straight to a transport ship."

"I doubt it with our testimony," said Alan. "I, for one, will tell them of how you save my life."

"And mine," added Johnson, who had done an about-face. "I think everyone onboard will."

Eric looked at them all and smiled. As Alan said, the Rangers were a loyal bunch and looked
after their own. He knew now that he had never stopped being one.


8. Overtime

Profile

SPN Dean Writing
blazoningpen
blazoningpen

Latest Month

July 2018
S M T W T F S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031    
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Witold Riedel