Wing Commander (novelization) Chapter One

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Chapter One
Book Wing Commander
Parts 1
Previous Prologue
Next Chapter Two

Dramatis Personae




MARCH 15, 2654

2100 HOURS




In classic battle group formation, the Confederation-class carrier Concordia, flagship of the 14th Fleet, glided majestically amid five cruisers, five destroyers—including the formidable TCS Beowulf-—and ten support ships. The pride of the Confederation Navy, the Concordia stretched into space nearly 984 meters and weighed in at an imposing 73,000 tonnes. She doubled as a dreadnought so she could stand up to Kilrathi cruisers and destroyers in a one-on-one fight. Three heavy flak cannons discouraged light fighters from becoming intimate, and eight anti-matter guns warded off attacking Kilrathi corvettes, heavy fighters, and bombers. Fore and aft phase shields guarded her from an assortment of Kilrathi weapons, as did her 500-centimeter-thick armor. She carried 120 fighters piloted by the most respected and experienced officers in the fleet.

Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn suspected that every time the Concordia appeared before the Kilrathi, she turned their alien blood cold. As she should.

Twelve fighters presently on security patrol veered off to allow a changing of the guard. Tolwyn shifted away from the external monitor and scratched at a graying sideburn, then at his neck. He loved the smell of his new cologne, a thank-you gift from his nephew Kevin, but the damned stuff had the strange effect of making him itch only when he wore his uniform, as though chemicals in the cologne reacted with the fabric. This effect had, of course, not been mentioned on the cologne's label, nor had Tolwyn remembered the last time he had served as a human catalyst for an unlikely chemical reaction. He tugged at his collar, swore, then stepped across the carrier's wide, pristine bridge to lock gazes with Commodore Richard Bellegarde, who had just exited the lift. Stocky, with neatly trimmed dark hair, Bellegarde had thus far been an excellent officer but a poor liar. He assumed that no one knew of his alcoholism nor his frequent extramarital affairs, both born of a midlife crisis that threatened to ruin him. Tolwyn hated to see a man slowly destroying his life, but he would keep on his side of the line. At least for now.

"Did we get it, Commodore?" Tolwyn asked.

Bellegarde nodded vigorously. "It's just been decoded." He hurried toward a video monitor at the commander's station. Tolwyn fell in behind him.

The screen lighted with a shaky image of Admiral Bill Wilson, whose eyes pleaded as he spoke. "The NAVCOM command codes were somehow overwritten. We can't shut it down, can't destroy it. Station self-destruct programs have been locked, passwords changed. Jesus, I'm sorry, Geoff. I'm so damned sorry." Laser fire pierced the air around Wilson. Small explosions lit the shadowy Command and Control room behind him. Then static whisked away his face.

Tolwyn repressed the urge to pound his fist on the commander's chair, having learned long ago to govern his emotions, use them as a tool, and never let them overwhelm him. He stood there, focusing on his breathing, clearing his thoughts, then guiding them toward an appropriate response.

Contrarily, Bellegarde paced the bridge, muttering to himself, rubbing his jaw. Were his thoughts visible, they would be wildly orbiting his head.

He whipped around and faced Tolwyn with a madman's glare, releasing a short, bitter laugh. "I've been considering ways Wilson could've protected it from them. But he… think about it… the Pegasus NAVCOM. My God, if they have it—"

"Calm down, Richard. Let's assume they have it," Tolwyn said, his voice a placid lake. "Now, what shall we do about that? Speak to me, Commodore."

Bellegarde snorted. "Go after them."

"Exactly. And I'm sure the Kilrathi counted on that." Tolwyn turned toward the open expanse of bridge between the commander's station and the lift. "Tactical. Give me the Vega and Sol sectors."

A swirling holographic projection took shape as overhead lights dimmed. Dozens of star systems appeared in each of the selected sectors, their tiny planets rotating in real time about their suns. Glowing blue orbs indicated the positions of Confederation capital ships. Red orbs representing Kilrathi cruisers, dreadnoughts, and destroyers dotted the display like blood. The Pegasus Station's last known location stood as a small blue dot at the core of the celestial maelstrom. Behind it, thin white lines formed a tube depicting the Ulysses Corridor. The tube funneled toward a small but comprehensive model of the Charybdis Quasar.

Hundreds of yellow lines emanated from the quasar's back, each representing an avenue through space-time. One yellow line, much thicker than the others, led directly to the Sol system, to Earth.

Tolwyn walked into the projection, intent on the images surrounding him. As he neared the Sol system, the holograph zoomed in on Earth, illustrating the precious planet in sharp detail. A hurricane swirled off Florida's east coast. Clouds blanketed California. Lightning backlit the thunderheads. Tolwyn glanced sidelong at Bellegarde. "What is the fleet's position?"

The commodore stepped closer to the holograph and gestured toward the blue dots. "We're spread all over the sector." He rushed to the commander's station and tapped in coordinates on a touchpad. Then he looked up and shook his head. "The earliest our advance elements could reach Sol is forty-two hours. And that's piecemeal and taking risks with the jumps, sir. If we do make it within that time frame, we'll be breaking every Confederation jump record."

"And with the NAVCOM, the Kilrathi can reach Earth in forty hours through the Charybdis Quasar." The irony tasted so bitter in Tolwyn's mouth that it made him cringe. "A mere two hours could decide the outcome of this war."

"That's not true, sir."

Tolwyn furrowed his brow. "What?"

"Even if Earth falls, we still have the fleet and support from the rest of the Confederation."

Stepping to the edge of the projection, Tolwyn locked gazes with the commodore. "What is it you fight for, Richard, if not Earth?"

"Permission to—"


"I'm sorry, sir, but Earth's not my homeworld. I'm aware of its strategic importance, but I don't place as much emphasis on it as those like you with family connections in government and industry."

"But it's the world of your forefathers. Think of Scotland, of Glasgow. That accent still lingers in your speech. You cannot deny your heritage."

"Sometimes I wish I could."

Tolwyn looked away, glaring into nothingness. Then he abruptly faced Bellegarde with renewed steel, his tone a direct challenge. "Signal all ships to mark our course and make full speed for Earth."

"All ships to mark course and make full speed for Earth. Aye-aye, sir," the commodore said tersely. He spun on his heel toward the situational display on his monitor.

"Richard. I suggest we lay our political differences aside for now. I suspect we'll return to this conversation later."

Bellegarde kept his back to Tolwyn. "Yes, sir."

Tolwyn stared at the holograph once more, his gaze directed to the Vega sector and traveling past McAuliffe to Trimble to Baird's Star. "Now. I need to know what the Kilrathi are up to. I need eyes and ears, and I need intelligence. Do we have any ships left in Vega?"

"Checking." The commodore's fingers worked quickly on his touchpad.

As Tolwyn waited, he realized that with the luck they had been having, the answer would surely be no. In that event, he needed to devise an alternate plan, one that would somehow get Warning and Control mission fighters in close enough to run intelligence on that Kilrathi fleet—but fighters deployed from where?

"We have seven capital ships in that sector, sir," Bellegarde finally answered. "The closest one to the Pegasus Station's last known coordinates is the Tiger Claw. But she's in the Enyo system and out of communication range. A drone will take two standard days to reach her."

Tolwyn moved toward a blue orb that quickly materialized into an image of the Bengal-class carrier Tiger Claw, 700 hundred meters of Confederation fury. Dammit. If they could only alert her. He winced once more over the taste in his mouth.

Then he accidentally spotted a tiny dot on the projection. Granted, whatever ship it represented lay in the Sol sector, but judging distances and factoring in a jump point, it might be within communication range and might be able to reach the Tiger Claw in time. He pointed at the dot.

"Who's this?"

Bellegarde studied the holograph, then typed on his pad. "It's a requisitioned merchantman, sir. The Diligent."

"The Diligent!" Narrowing his gaze, Tolwyn watched as the dot grew into the rather bulky, purely functional form of the transport vessel. What she lost in appearance she gained in strategic position.

"She's captained by James Taggart," Bellegarde added.

With that, bad luck and operative words like "might" got burned away by Tolwyn's recognition. He had been meaning to check on Taggart's whereabouts. Now fate had stepped on the bridge to whisper the coordinates in his ear. "Can you pull up her log?"

"Already have. She's en route to the Tiger Claw with two replacement pilots: First Lieutenants Todd Marshall and Christopher Blair."

Blair. Another name from long ago. In their quest to end humanity's future, the Kilrathi had inadvertently summoned up two distinct figures from Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn's past. If nothing else, the immediate future would prove bittersweet. He stared through the merchantman's ghostly hull and said, "Open a secure channel to the Diligent immediately. I need to speak to her captain—"

"Right away, sir."

"—and this First Lieutenant Blair."