The cockpit sealed with a hiss. I tried to get comfortable, but anxiety was getting the better of me.
I switched on the main computer and entered my authorization codes. The system kernel was Linux-based, and started almost instantaneously. The fighter’s complicated subsystems took a while to initialize. I watched as the familiar messages scrolled across my HUD.
Life support [ OK ]
Navigation [ OK ]
Main Reactor [ OK ]
Propulsion [ OK ]
Targeting [ OK ]
Weapons [ OK ]
As the various subsystems came online, a platform moved underneath me. My fighter was moved through the hangar along a track, eventually lining up with a large bulkhead door.
The bulkhead opened and long magnetic rails stretched out toward my craft. Several more bulkheads opened after the first. Section by section, the launch tube formed before me.
The magnetic rails only extended through the first section of the tunnel. That would be the end of the artificial gravity. After that, my free-floating fighter would be guided by an electromagnetic suspension field, ensuring that it cleared the tube.
“All clear,” called the loudspeaker. “Blue-03, you are cleared for launch.”
I flipped my thrusters online and eased into the throttle, propelling myself forward on the rails. As I neared their end, I pushed hard on the throttle. Within half a second, the launch tube disappeared behind me and I was thrust out into space.
I had spent twelve months training in a virtual environment for this. Four more in an authentic g-force simulator unit. I wasn’t ready though.
Nausea churned in my stomach. Not from the G’s, I could take them, but from the stress of the situation. As I got my bearings, I flipped through the closest targets on my HUD. Their locations and descriptions were projected onto the glass of my cockpit.
After acquiring a target, I moved into pursuit. The computer’s targeting and navigation systems were bridged and provided an assisted flight system. It helped to ease the difficulty of maneuvering in this 360 degree environment.
I pulled a hard right and my target came into view. I took a deep breath. During training, the simulated opponents were always aliens, fictional characters, and other unintimidating absurdities.
Reality was not so pleasant. My target flew a ship identical to mine in every way, minus their green coat of paint. Its pilot was human, no different than me, other than our separate allegiances.
Rebels they were branded. Insurgents, looking to undermine our way of life. They were out here escorting a new kind of weapon. I tried to focus on that detail. Anything to rationalize this civil war. To somehow justify my own actions.
Pshyuu! Pshyuu! Pshyuu! Pshyuu!
I began to fire preemptively as I lined up my shot. The targeting system locked onto their fighter. My targeting reticle ironically changed from red to green.
A brilliant blast of white engulfed my vision as my target’s craft exploded. I pulled away sharply to avoid getting caught in the blast.
I flipped through the available targets to select a new one. An alert flashed on my HUD, letting me know an ally was in trouble. I immediately targeted the fighter pursuing them and followed suit.
With my thrusters on full, I started to close the gap. I’d need to wait for a target lock before I could attack. Without a lock, I’d risk hitting my comrade.
Heavy G’s pressured my entire body as I tried to keep pace. 800 meters. 700 meters. 500 meters. Almost in range.
A direct hit. Their craft sat disabled. I thought about finishing them off but hesitated. They were no threat to anyone now. I turned and backed off.
A bright flash reflected from behind me. The disable fighter was no more, destroyed by the craft it had pursued. I shook my head at the needless kill and tried to refocus on the firefight.
“Attention all fighters,” a voice called over the radio. “We’ve almost cleared this wave. Red team continue pursuing their fighters. Blue team break off and head for the next objective.”
I activated the next objective on the computer and headed toward the waypoint we were supposed to group at. Before us was a large starship, a mobile headquarters for the rebels.
Formerly an Earth Alliance vessel, it had been commandeered by these traitors almost five years ago. They had been successful at eluding us until now, hiding in space while working on their weapon.
Our ambush would stop them before they could put their weapon to use. Our new objective was to take out their shield generator and render them vulnerable. In order to take it out, we’d have to get closer, inside the shield bubble it created around the ship.
The shields nullified our most powerful weapons. It made a ship to ship strike impossible and forced us to rely on our fighters instead.
As my squadron approached, the enemy launched another round of their own fighters.
“Hold formation and try to break through,” orders rang out. “They’re trying to make us scramble, don’t–”
Two fighters to my left, the ship at the head of our formation disappeared in a blinding flash. Then one on my right. There hadn’t been any weapons-fire. The enemy was engaging us at full-thrust, making kamikaze runs into our fighters!
Formation broke pretty quickly. All sense of order was gone. The remaining men in my squadron were trying to stand their ground against the enemy fighters.
I had my orders though, and unlike the others, I intended to follow them. I wasn’t sure whether this was due to my sense of loyalty or if I was just being naive. This was my first mission, and I was determined to succeed.
The shield generator drew closer. It was almost within weapons range. I just needed to get a little closer…
Pshyuu! Pshyuu! Pshyuu! BOOM!
I was hit. The force of the blast threw me into the side of the cockpit. While trying to maintain my trajectory, I glanced over at the warnings flashing on the left edge of my HUD.
Weapons [ Damaged ]
My mind scattered in a state of panic. All around, I could see nothing but debris and exploding fighters. The signals from my allies were dropping out left and right.
Sensors showed a large power signature steadily rising inside of the rebel starship. Red team was on their way, but it would be at least two minutes before they’d arrive. The enemy was going to use their weapon, and the only unit in any position to make a difference was me.
‘There’s only one thing I can do,’ I thought, seeing another of my comrades go down from an enemy collision. I pushed my thrusters to their max and continued my course. Weapons or not, I was going to take out that shield generator.
The enemy’s hull grew closer and closer. I took a deep breath, awaiting the impact.
Propulsion [ Damaged ]
The message flashed on my HUD. The hit altered my course. I tried correcting it with my remaining maneuvering thrusters, but it cost me my speed. If I continued, my impact wouldn’t cause enough damage to take out the generator.
“Dammit,” I screamed, alone and useless. I couldn’t help anymore. Using my maneuvering thrusters, I slowed my approach to a safe speed and rotated until I was parallel with their hull.
My magnetic docking clamps attached to their hull. I sat there, watching helplessly as my comrades were taken out. The power reading coming from inside the ship was slowing down, reaching its peak.
All of this was for nothing. Our ambush failed, and the rebel weapon was charged. I looked out into space, silently waiting for the enemy to notice my presence. Having docked with them had likely hidden my sensor signal, the enemy fighters would have to see me with their own eyes.
The power signature had begun to hold steady. Red team had just arrived, but they were too late. The remaining rebel fighters moved to intercept them. The struggle would soon be over.
A bright flash blinded me. It was several seconds before I could open my eyes again. This time however, it was not the flash of a destroyed fighter.
I looked out in amazement. A large bubble of clear space surrounded the ship. Outside it, a brilliant stream of stars rushing by.
Navigation [ Error ]
An indicator on my HUD designated the confused state of my fighter’s computer. Of course it would be confused. It wasn’t designed to move this fast.
I remained in awe, mystified by the ocean of stars passing by us. The light seemed to distort around the shield bubble that protected the ship. The pocket of space between me and the shield was eerily calm.
Warp drive. Faster than light travel. Whatever you wanted to call it. Our best scientists told us it was a pipe dream. It couldn’t be done. Guess this would prove them wrong. If they ever found out that is.
My head was spinning with revelation. The rebels had never been creating a weapon. All their secret research must have been on creating this new form of travel.
Why would they keep it a secret though? Or did the Earth Alliance know about it all along? Were the claims that they were building a weapon all a conspiracy?
This also meant that the kamikaze fighters weren’t an act of desperation at all. They were a sacrifice made by pilots who knew they wouldn’t be making this trip. The realization shocked me.
Amongst the silence of space, my stomach growling sounded like that of a monster. I had skipped lunch to avoid g-force nausea. I couldn’t stay out here forever. And If I tried to escape I’d likely be torn to shreds once I left the protection of this ship’s shields.
“Rebel starship,” I hailed the enemy. “This is Earth Alliance fighter Blue-03.” I waited a bit, but there was no reply. “My craft was damaged during our battle and I was forced to dock with your ship.”
A small blip of silence sounded on the radio, as if someone was going to reply, but hesitated. “My fighter is damaged, I’m no threat to you. Requesting permission to come aboard,” I sighed, “as a prisoner of war.”
A long pause followed. It felt like several minutes passed by before I heard a reply. “Alliance fighter, your request has been granted. Put your fighter into maintenance mode and transfer us your authorization codes.”
I did as I was told, shutting down any hostile subsystems on my craft and enabling maintenance mode. Transferring the rebels my authorization codes left my fate in their hands. They could shut me down at a moment’s notice should they choose.
“You may enter hangar bay two on the underside of the ship,” the radio informed me. “Any threatening action will result in your craft being jettisoned into space. Proceed when ready.”
I disengaged my docking clamps and slowly navigated toward their hangar bay. Maneuvering thrusters were slow, but with just about ten meters between me and oblivion, I wouldn’t have gone faster if I could.
Once docked inside, I released the seal on my cockpit and fresh air rushed in. I stood up from my seat, hands in the air. I was ready to be taken prisoner, likely to rot in a cell until the end of my days. Warp technology wasn’t thought to be possible, there wouldn’t be a rescue coming for me.
Several soldiers approached me, guns pointed and following my every movement. I climbed out of my fighter and stood waiting for instructions. One of the soldiers approached me and removed my sidearm from it’s holster. He waved me forward with the barrel of his gun.
Surrounded on all sides, my escort only got me two thirds of the way to the door before it opened. A man in a prestigious uniform entered the room.
“Captain on deck!” called the closest crewman to the door. Every soldier in the room stopped to salute the captain. Their salute differed from that of the Alliance, but the respect the soldiers conveyed was clear.
“At ease,” the captain commanded. He was a tall gentleman with a medium build and short black hair. His height and perfect posture worked together to intimidate me. I found myself unintentionally staring at the floor.
“Felt like coming for a ride?” the captain asked with heavy sarcasm.
“It wasn’t my intention,” I answered. My voice clung to my throat, not wanting to leave.
“Well then, you’re out of uniform soldier,” the captain replied, this time in a serious tone.
“Excuse me?” His new attitude threw me for a loop.
“I’ve got no room for prisoners aboard this ship. My crew has suffered heavy casualties at the hand of your ‘Earth Alliance’.”
His glaring eyes could pierce the hull of any ship. I no longer stared at the floor but was instead caught by his intense gaze.
“I’ll say it again, you’re out of uniform soldier.”
Having grasped a sudden understanding of his words, I straightened my posture and gave a salute matching that of his own officers.
“It won’t happen again sir!” I tried to sound confident. My voice cracked, but I maintained my salute.
“Good. Now, you will retrieve your uniform from storage locker seven. Then you will report for a mission overview in my briefing room.” He relaxed a little and added, “I trust you know how to navigate an Excalibur class starship?”
“Do you have any questions, soldier?”
“Yes. Where are we going, sir?”
“Home,” the captain answered proudly. “However long it takes us to find one.”