Wing Commander (novelization) Chapter Twenty-Two

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Chapter Twenty-Two
Book Wing Commander
Parts 1
Previous Chapter Twenty-One
Next Chapter Twenty-Three

Dramatis Personae






MARCH 17, 2654

0900 HOURS





"The destroyer has moved on, sir," Falk said, observing its progress on his radar screen.

Gerald released an inaudible sigh, then rubbed his tired eyes.

"Mr. Obutu? Give me the numbers."

"Reports are still incomplete. Thirty-five confirmed dead. One hundred and twenty-three wounded. We're still venting atmosphere on decks eleven and twenty-one. The breeches in Engineering and Secondary Ordnance have been contained. The flight boss reports hangar doors inoperative. No estimate yet on repair time. And he's still tallying up the damage to our fighters and bombers. It doesn't look good, sir."

"No, it doesn't. You have the con." Gerald pushed himself up and headed off the bridge.

As he turned into the corridor, Obutu's report rang in his ears. How the hell did it come to this?

And his answer kept falling upon the arrival of three individuals.

He found his way to the lift and took it down to the living quarters. Someone accosted him, but he marched by, not looking up, the rest of his journey a blur until he reached Sansky's hatch.

Inside, he found the captain propped up in bed and connected to a half-dozen tubes and wires that snaked into a small rolling tower of sensors. The doctors had successfully cleared the blockage of his coronary artery, yet they could not understand why his condition had not improved. "He says he wants to live," one doctor had said. "But somehow I don't believe him."

Gerald stood over the captain, whose eyes had trouble focusing. "How are you, sir?"

"They say the man is the ship, the ship the man."

"That bad, huh?"

Sansky managed a wan grin. "Tell me."

After giving the captain a capsule summary of the Claw's present condition, Gerald folded his arms over his chest and waited for a reaction. And, to his astonishment, Sansky looked relieved. "Mr. Gerald, we could have sustained even greater losses were it not for your leadership. Thank you. I'm resuming command."

"Aye-aye, sir. But if I may speak frankly, we wouldn't have sustained any losses if—"

"I know where you're going, Paul. Stow that argument."

"Sir, they know our every move before we make it. And all since Commodore Taggart or Paladin or whoever the hell he is came aboard with that half-breed and his reckless buddy. Then there's the question of the ULF signals. We didn't send them, yet Blair detected them. He's trying to throw us off his trail. In any event, it is my firm belief that there is a traitor aboard the Tiger Claw."

Sansky opened his mouth, but a ring came from the hatch bell. "Enter."

Taggart straightened and ran his finger along the sliding door. "This hatch is wearing a little thin, Mr. Gerald. Sound tends to carry right through it. So make your point."

"The boy's a Pilgrim. Could my point be any more clear?"

Grinning crookedly, Taggart crossed to the bed. "So he's a Pilgrim. In your eyes, that makes him guilty of treason?"

"Yes, sir. It does."

"Barring the lieutenant's blood, do you have any other evidence that suggests he's a traitor?"

"We don't need any more evidence, sir. He arrives on this ship and things go to hell. That's not a coincidence. It's a fact."

But Taggart wasn't buying the facts. "Lieutenant Blair risked his life to save mine today. He's as good as they get. And I've fought with the best. He can fly my wing any mission, any time. Now I urge you to get over that damned war, Commander. We have another to fight."

"Commodore," Gerald spat. "With all due respect to your apparent rank, you're a Naval Intelligence officer. You don't know a damned thing about space combat, strategy, or war."

"I knew enough not to send Deveraux's wing on a wild-goose chase while the Tiger Claw was attacked."

"And if we had been destroyed, you would've been safely out of harm's way. Tell me, sir, was it just intuition that you knew about the Kilrathi diversion? Or are you withholding information?"

"Commander, I can stand here for hours trying to justify my loyalty to you. I could tell you that I flew off this ship during Custer's Carnival, remind you that I carry Admiral Tolwyn's ring, but what difference would that make? You've made up your mind."

"Gentlemen," Sansky interjected. "None of this matters now. What matters is our survival and our mission."

"Both of which are threatened by this man's presence," Gerald said.

Sansky glared back. "Enough!" He proffered his hand to Taggart. "Welcome aboard, Commodore. Do you have any orders for me?"

Tensing, Gerald could not watch his captain shake hands with the half-breed's champion, a handshake that might seal their fate.

"Sir, this is your ship," Taggart said. "I offer you every assistance in the current crisis."

Gerald nodded. "Assist us by leaving."

"As matters stand, we need all the help we can get," Sansky said, lifting his voice, then lapsing into a cough. "This ship has suffered massive damage, and we have almost no operational fighters left. If you have any suggestions—any at all—I'd be glad to entertain them."

Taggart paced before the bed, eyes narrowed in thought. "The Kilrathi will be at the jump point in just under four hours, and we still don't know their capabilities or plan of attack." His hand brushed along the bulkhead. "I think this old lady's got a little fight left. All she needs is a little coaxing."

The man's naivete astounded Gerald. "Engineering took a direct hit. Our fuel cells are nearly gone. We don't have enough power to keep up with the air recyclers, let alone get under way. Barring a miracle, we've failed."

"Failure is not an option, Commander," Taggart said. "And if it's a miracle we need, I suggest we find a way to make one. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"You're dismissed, Commander."

Wanting to throttle the man instead of saluting him, Gerald went through the motions, spun on his heel, and got the hell out of there.

It was high time that he had a talk with the command staff. High time, indeed.