Wing Commander (novelization) Prologue
- Rick Adunda
- Benjamin Ferrago
- Rene Gemma
- Scott Osborne
- Eric Popkin
- Thomas Sherryl
- Unnamed Terran Confederation Capital Ship Commander
- Unnamed Terran Confederation Ensign
- Unnamed Terran Confederation Fighter Pilot
- Unnamed Terran Confederation Navigator
- Unnamed Kilrathi Marine
- William Wilson
VEGA SECTOR FLEET
MARCH 15, 2654
700 LIGHT YEARS
Seated at his console in Pegasus Station's NAV-COM control room, nineteen-year-old Radar Officer Thomas Sherryl stared through a wide viewport at the swirling blues and reds of the Charybdis Quasar. He looked past the whirlpool of gases, past the black hole lying at the quasar's core like an interminably deep maw, until his inner gaze rested on a gentle blue orb bathed in a soft glow. Earth. Homeworld. So near. So far. Thomas Sherryl dreamed of things green. Of the smell and taste of real air. Of foamy ocean waters rushing up and across his chest. Of beach barbecues. Of bikinis. He no longer sat in his chair, surrounded by billions of tons of durasteel and ice-slick rock; he no longer felt the rumble of the naval base's enormous ion engines propelling the converted asteroid deeper into the corridor; he no longer had to pull the graveyard shift and oversee instruments that did a fine job of sweeping the sector without human scrutiny. Thomas Sherryl had found his freedom. Goodbye towers, gun emplacements, and antennae. Good-bye Confederation capital ships sitting in your spacedocks. I'm no longer stuck on this rock. I got a ticket out. And it's a ticket no one can take away.
"Hey, Tom? Can you cover for me? I gotta take a leak."
Robbed of his bliss, Thomas Sherryl scowled at fellow Radar Officer Rick Adunda as the other man set down his half-full coffee mug and left before Thomas replied.
With a loud sigh that drew stares from the other personnel on duty, Thomas switched seats to Rick's console and resignedly studied the long-range sensor report: a blank screen. He eyed his own short-range display and found the same.
"I love my job," he moaned.
And, as though on cue, a mass of red blips suddenly rippled across the screen.
Thomas's gaze shot up. Had someone hacked into the system to play a joke? He studied the other officers. No smiles. No laughter. He felt a tremor rise from his feet and rattle into his spine.
He looked to Rick's coffee mug as it began to vibrate.
A shadow wiped over the viewport, followed by a second, then a third. Muffled explosions resounded from outside the control room.
Jakoby, the stocky security officer on duty, rushed to the viewport.
"Kilrathi fighters," he said stiffly.
Klaxons blared. Overhead lighting switched to the dim crimson of battle. Behind Thomas a panel of life-support monitors sizzled and shorted out, heaving a pungent scent that wafted through the control room. He glanced to a bank of screens that showed images from the station's external cameras:
Twelve comm dishes on the base's northwest side blew apart in succession under the unrelenting Particle cannon and Meson fire.
Dozens of Dralthi medium fighters swooped down and caught the great Confederation cruisers and destroyers still sitting helplessly in their berths. The fighters resembled glistening gray discs cut through their centers by sleek, single-pilot cockpits. Long, narrow laser cannons extended from the pits and blazed unceasingly. Though only twenty-eight meters long, the fighters' formidable, talon-like appearance made them seem much larger. And they packed more than just laser cannons.
Heat-seeking missiles streaked away from the starfighters, locking onto the Confed ships' now-warming engines. The cruisers and destroyers retaliated with streams of tachyon fire, but scores of missiles navigated through the glistening gauntlet to impact on and weaken the Confed ships' shields. Another wave of those missiles would tear into hull armor, flesh, and bone.
A resonant drumming seized the NAVCOM control room as asteroid-based gun batteries finally came on line, belching out thick bolts of anti-aircraft fire as they swiveled to track targets.
Thomas kept a white-knuckled grip on his chair as he continued to watch with a horrid and inevitable fascination. Like an angry horde of plastisteel insects, the fighters dove at the station, dropped their poisonous barbs, and pulled up, leaving trails of floating debris in their wakes. For every Dralthi destroyed, another soared through the rubble of its predecessor.
One of the heavy cruisers, the Iowa, launched a half-dozen F44-A Rapier medium attack fighters. The Rapiers' silver, battle-scored fuselages and barrel-shaped rotating laser cannons that formed their brassy noses gave them a fearsome if not sleek appearance. Short, slightly upturned wings and huge twin thruster cones stated most clearly that the Rapier had been built for speed. And it usually did an excellent job of catapulting a single pilot across the laser-lit cosmos. But as the starfighters cleared the flight deck, Kilrathi fighters methodically picked them off with salvos of Meson and missile fire that fully obscured each ship before blasting it to gleaming fragments.
"We're gonna lose," an astounded navigator said behind Thomas. Rick Adunda pounded over, his young face creased in terror. "Get out of my chair."
With a shudder, Thomas returned to his own station as Rick dialed up a commlink so they could listen to the skipchatter from outside. "Goddammit! Cut our moorings! Get us out of here!" a capital ship commander cried, her voice already hoarse.
"Mooring release systems, uh, damaged," came a nervous ensign's reply. "Unable to... to initiate."
A fighter pilot cut into the channel. "Christ almighty! They're everywhere! Bug out, people. Bug out. Regroup at the southern pole. Go now!"
"Belay that order," shouted the capital ship commander. "We need air support, Lieutenant—not your announcement of retreat."
"Forget it, Commander. We… are… outgunned," the pilot said, spacing his words for effect. "There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity."
"See you at your court-martial."
"If we live that long."
"Mayday! Mayday! This is Senior Spacehand Eric Popkin in Watchtower Three. We can't hold 'em back anymore. Batteries are wasted. They're coming over the fence. Wait. What's that? Ohmygod. OHMYGOD! AHHHHHH!"
"Popkin? Report! Popkin, do you copy?"
"And it is you, Dear Lord, who will deliver us from this evil because we ask it in your name, and—"
"You wanna piece of me? I don't think so. Open wide…"
Something struck heavily on Thomas's shoulder. He turned to find Rick staring wide-eyed at him. "What are you doing?"
"I, uh, I don't know. I guess, well—"
"Make your report!"
'Thomas swallowed and regarded his scope. "I count one-nine-zero bogies inbound. Vector three-seven-four, attack formation."
"Shields are not responding," Security Officer Jakoby announced. The viewport filled with a harsh white light that peeled off the blackness of space. A tremendous thunderclap shook through the entire station as though a fusion bomb had detonated at its core.
"What the f—" Rick began, then shielded his face as his console sparked and smoked.
"I don't believe it," Ordnance Officer Scott Osborne said, squinting at the viewport as the glare subsided. "That was the Iowa." He turned toward Thomas, his face paling.
"Confirmed," Comm Officer Rene Gemma said. "The Iowa is gone. And the Kobi."
Loud footfalls caught Thomas's attention. He cocked his head toward the lift doors as Admiral Bill Wilson double-timed into the control room with an armored Confederation Marine in tow. Twin rows of large buttons on Wilson's dark uniform flashed as they caught the overhead lights. He wiped the sweat from his balding pate, and his face seemed to grow more gaunt as he took in the scene with weary eyes.
Rick, who had moved to the console on Thomas's left, tipped his head in Wilson's direction and muttered, "It's about freakin' time."
Wilson turned toward them. "Status?"
Thomas jerked and studied his screen. "Four Kilrathi capital ships coming to bear, Admiral. They are powering weapons."
With a crooked grin, Wilson asked, "How did they get past our patrols?"
"We lost contact with our patrols for a few minutes," Comm Officer Gemma said. "But we reestablished. I thought it was quasar interference. The enemy must've taken them out and transmitted false signals."
Before Wilson could respond, a low-pitched alarm added its voice to the already rising din of the control room.
Security Officer Jakoby bolted to his terminal. He touched the screen several times, then winced. "We have a station breach. Levels seven, eleven, and thirteen. Kilrathi Marines."
Wilson hurried to a bank of security monitors beside Jakoby. Thomas stood to peer over the admiral's shoulder.
Towering forms in copper-colored armor skulked through the dim corridors, throwing markedly inhuman shadows on the walls. Rebreather tubes partially concealed their faces and snaked down from elongated heads to bulging chests. Exhaust fumes lingered behind them as they forged efficiently and inexorably forward.
A pair of Confed security officers fired upon them suddenly, but two of the Kilrathi withstood the point-blank hits and thundered on to seize the officers. Thomas turned away as he listened to the women shriek, gurgle, and fall silent.
"They're headed for Command and Control," Jakoby reported.
Thomas may have only been a radar officer, but he knew very well what the aliens wanted. He flicked his gaze to the opposite end of the control room, to the massive computer system shielded by a synthoglass wall, a mainframe that represented the very heart and brain of Pegasus Station. At the system's center lay that small, most precious black box with the letters NAVCOM stenciled across its side.
Clenching his teeth, Wilson charged toward the computer system. "Destroy the NAVCOM AI. Now!" he ordered Benjamin Ferrago, the chief navigator.
Ferrago typed frantically on his touchpad, then, balling his hand into a fist, he smashed a glass panel to gain access to a red handle. Grimacing, he threw the handle forward and looked to the black box. Nothing.
He tried the handle a second time, his eyes now glassy.
"What's wrong, son?" Wilson demanded.
Ferrago shook his head. "Command codes have been overwritten."
Wilson whirled and seized the Confed Marine's conventional rifle, dropped the slide back, then aimed at the NAVCOM. Thomas flinched as uranium-depleted rounds ricocheted off the synthoglass. Wilson emptied the entire clip before turning the rifle around. With a howl, he charged toward the NAVCOM and drove the rifle's butt into the glass. The stock shattered.
"Back off," Jakoby said, pushing the button on a concussion grenade the size of a ballpoint pen. He tossed it at the synthoglass.
The others retreated as Thomas crouched behind his console and held his ears. The grenade went off with a terrific boom. He lay there, listening to his own breath for a moment.
"Did it work?" someone asked.
Someone else cursed.
Peering furtively above his instrument panel, Thomas glimpsed the bad news.
Another concussion echoed from outside. The lift's massive, reinforced doors began distorting, bending in, as the Kilrathi Marines outside unloosed a flurry of rifle fire.
"Here," Rick said, slapping a sidearm in Thomas's hand. He winked.
"Special arakh rounds. Kilrathi catnip. We Terrans stick together."
"Where'd you get this? We're gonna get in—"
"Big trouble? You kidding me?" Rick clicked off the safety of his own pistol. "Let's go."
Remaining hunched over, Thomas followed Rick past the radar and navigation stations to a partition opposite the lift doors, where they huddled and watched the doors grow hotter and weaker.
Admiral Wilson regarded Comm Officer Gemma with a grave look.
"Prepare a drone. Get me a coded channel."
Gemma seemed lost for a moment, then she touched the correct keys and nodded to the admiral.
Wilson faced the camera at Gemma's station as it pivoted toward him.
"This is Admiral Bill Wilson, Pegasus Station commanding officer. Four Kilrathi capital ships are closing. Station has been breached. They want the NAVCOM. Repeat. They want—"
The lift doors blew off their glide tracks and thwacked the deck with twin thuds. A cloud of toxic smoke swelled into the control room. Within that smoke, Thomas made out the unnerving outline of a Kilrathi Marine as it hunkered down and ignited its weapon.
Rick pumped rounds into the smoke, as did some of the others. Thomas saw a half-dozen more outlines appear behind the first, and the sight sent him ducking behind the partition.
"Drone away!" Gemma shouted.
Thomas looked back at the viewport. The tiny drone streaked away from the dying station, bound for the nearest Confederation carrier, the Concordia, some twelve hours away. It passed in front of the Kilrathi battle group that included a dreadnought, two destroyers, and the largest vessel, a Snakeir-class cruiser. Transports and smaller escort ships flew abreast of the capital ships, exploiting their cover.
An explosion stung Thomas's ears, and he saw Rick fall against the partition, his uniform melting into a black cavity in his chest.
Thomas wanted to act, but he could only tremble. He detected heavy footsteps. Close. Loud breathing, mechanized. Oh, God. What's that smell?
He looked over his shoulder at the Kilrathi Marine standing over him, its polished armor reflecting explosions from outside, its pale yellow eyes wide, menacing, drinking him in with sinister delectation as it breathed through its tube.
Shoot him! he screamed at himself.
He lifted the pistol.
The Kilrathi plucked it effortlessly from him, grunted, and kicked him onto his back. The soldier pressed its boot on his chest, cutting off his air.
A rib popped.
In those last seconds, Thomas took himself away from Pegasus, through the jump point at Charybdis, and back home, where palm trees bowed to the coastal wind, where waves lapped endlessly at the shore, where he lay under a canopy of fronds and drank from the lips of a dark-eyed woman until night fell.