Wing Commander in Real Time - Day 1 - 2130 Zulu

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The Diligent, a merchantman, speeds by Venus. Behind it,
spinning slowly, we can clearly see Earth.


BLAIR, mid twenties, straight out of the academy, is
sprawled out on the tiny bunk, no shirt. He's fingering
a silver cross that hangs around his neck. On closer
examination, we see that it is inscribed with
astrological symbols and ends in a dagger point. It's a

A VERY SMALL MAN, about sixteen inches tall, appears to
sit on a shelf just above his head, watching. This is, in
fact, a HOLOGRAM projected by Blair’s portable personal
computer (PPC), MERLIN.

I know there's a war going on -- but a
requisitioned merchantman? What are we
on, a garbage run? Delivering

BLAIR ignores him and keeps reading. This irks Merlin.

MERLIN (Cont'd)
"The Diligent?" Please -- "The
Dilapidated" is more like it. "The
Deluded." "The Dilatory."

(finally looking up)

"Inclined to delay, tardy, slow. From
the Latin, Dilator"
(heavy sarcasm)
I’m not keeping you up, am I?

Where did you pick up that sarcasm?
I didn't put that in your program.

I don't just sit around waiting for you
to power me up. The sarcasm I downloaded from the main-frame at the
Academy while you were in --
(suddenly all business)
Lt. Marshall's approaching the hatch.

Blair hides the cross in his book, just as the hatch
opens, revealing TODD 'MANIAC' MARSHALL. He hasn't earned
his "Maniac" moniker just yet - For now people just call
him Lt. Marshall. But for script simplicity we'll refer to
him as Maniac through out. Maniac is Blair's age and a
fellow pilot, but the resemblance ends there.

Where Blair seems closed-off and brooding, Maniac's an
open book -- big-boned and with a slightly crazed gleam in
his eye.

Up and at 'em, Captain wants you on the
bridge. Top priority.

He glances up at Merlin, who now sits immobile, but with
eyes that seem to follow you around the room, like a
creepy optical illusion.

(to Merlin)
What are you looking at?
(to Blair)
What a waste of artificial

MERLIN reactivates.

Funny Lieutenant, I was thinking the
same about you.

Merlin, off.

Merlin shoots an indignant glance at Blair just as he

There weren't enough know it alls in
the universe, you had to program
another one.
(a beat)
Come on, we better get upstairs.

I'll meet you.

Maniac starts to say something, then shrugs and leaves.

Blair lifts his Pilgrim cross from the book and slips it
over his head. He grabs his shirt and pulls it on


A grim, ruggedly handsome man of indeterminate age,
looking more like a pirate than a merchant, comes out of
the GALLEY with a hot cup of coffee. This is James
Taggart, better known as PALADIN. Maniac sits idly in the copilot's seat.

BLAIR arrives, ducking through a small hatch-way.


PALADIN looks strangely at Blair. Blair realizing his
cross is still partially visible, tucks it away. Paladin
doesn't say anything.

I don't' know who you know Lieutenant,
but you just received a CONFED Code One
secure communication.

BLAIR sits at the center console, slides over to the comm
screen, keys a code.

Blair, Christopher, Lieutenant.

...Screen powers up and ADMIRAL TOLWYN appears on the
screen. Reflexively, Blair straightens up.

At ease, Lieutenant?

Yes sir, Admiral.

Good. You are currently outbound for
Vega sector and the Tiger Claw. I need
you to hand deliver an encrypted
communications chip to her captain.
Captain Sansky. Message is incoming.

Why not send it by drone to the
Pegasus, sir? It would be quicker--

The Pegasus is gone. it was destroyed
by a Kilrathi battle group twelve and a
half hours ago. See that Captain Sansky
gets that chip.

All do respect sir, why me?

(Small smile)
Right now, you're all I've got.
(a beat)
I fought along side your father, in the
Pilgrim Wars. He was a good man -- you
look a lot like him.

People say I have my mother's looks, sir.

Tolwyn reacts, as if remembering something.

Yes, it must of been hard. They were
both good people. Godspeed. Tolwyn Out

Recorder spits a small circular chip out. BLAIR takes it
and the monitor turns to fuzz.


TOLWYN steps back from the monitor. BELLEGARDE stands
behind him.

You don't approve, Richard?

Of using Blair's kid? No, sir, I do


PALADIN bangs coordinates into a navigational computer as
MANIAC sits idle in the copilot's seat. BLAIR looks up
from the comm screen. Paladin doesn't wait for Blair to

This milk-run just got a little more
interesting. Set a course for beacon
147, one quarter impulse.

Course for 147. One quarter impulse.
(reads screen)
147's off limit's sir. There's 100,000
kilometer no-fly zone around it.

I said beacon 147. It's a shortcut.
Lose the sir.

MANIAC shrugs, leans over to the controls, bangs the
course in, hits the engage button with his foot.

As PALADIN moves away, we see a black tattoo on his fore
arm. It's in a strange, jagged script: Kilrathi.


Craft streaks by Mercury. We follow the Diligent as it
heads towards the Sun. Ahead of it, far in the distance,
we can just make out a flashing buoy. Behind the buoy,
space seems to distort, shimmer ever so slightly.



MARCH 15, 2654
2130 HOURS

After graduating from the Terran Confederation Space Naval Academy
on Hilthros just a month earlier, First Lieutenant Christopher Blair had
entertained a number of fantasies concerning his first non-training
assignment. He, like many of the other fledgling pilots, had put himself on
great carriers like the Concordia or cruisers like the Waterloo. Some of
Blair's classmates had actually been awarded those prestigious
assignments, much to his jealousy and chagrin, because for a month he
had been shuffled around, leading him to believe that his superiors could
not find him a home. He had served a brief, thirty-hour stint on the
destroyer Gilgamesh before being ferried back to the academy. The
commandant had asked him to give several testimonial speeches to the
new classes. But Blair felt that his wisdom had fallen on the deaf ears of
bright-eyed baby birds too excited to listen, their hearts pounding at the
thought of strapping on starfighters and hauling their particular asses
across the cosmos. But Blair couldn't blame them. He had behaved the
same way when graduates had come to speak to his freshman class.
Christopher Blair needed a home. And at last they had given him one:
the TCS Tiger Claw, the largest carrier in her class, with a crew of over
750. Less than two minutes after receiving word of the assignment, Bla,?ir
had voice-activated his Portable Personal Computer, a fingernail-sized
device embedded in his wrist, to learn more about the carrier's service
In 2642 the Confederation military command had authorized the
design of the Bengal-class carrier line, and by 2644 the Tiger
launched for her shakedown cruise with a minimal space crew and
inexperienced command. She ran headlong into a Kilrathi invasion force.
With clever tactics her crew managed to suppress the superior force.
Shortly thereafter, Vega sector became the carrier's permanent
During 2649, the Claw performed a delaying action to allow Confed
transports to retreat out of Kilrathi-occupied space. The engagement,
subsequently known as Custer's Carnival, concluded with the ship badly
damaged but able to return home. She lay in spacedock undergoing
repairs and refitting until early 2050. Veteran crewers swore the old girl
never fully recovered from that mission, that battle damage still haunted
the deepest regions of her hull.
Besides hearing about the Tiger Claw's history, Blair had wanted to
review the personnel roster, but that access had been denied, since his
computer account had not yet existed. No matter. He would meet his
fellow officers soon enough.
Now he lay sprawled out and bare-chested on his rickety bunk in one of
the Diligent's tiny cabins. Exposed conduits spanned the ceiling like
rubber and durasteel cobwebs. Even the standard cot-and-locker
arrangements aboard carriers afforded more living space. And their crews
actually kept the floors clean and addressed problems such as
foul-smelling mattresses, two items clearly overlooked on the Diligent.
Trying to ignore the uncomfortable surroundings, Blair fixed his gaze
on a hard copy of Claw Marks, the onboard magazine of the TCS Tiger
Claw, a gift from one of his flight instructors. As he read the latest news
from the Terran Confederation Armed Forces CommNet, he absently
touched the four-inch-long silver cross hanging around his neck. He let his
fingers play over the strange symbol carved into its center. Resembling the
old Earth scales of justice, the symbol stood on a circular gold background
with three points of silver radiating from it to support a semicircle also
trimmed in gold. That semicircle ran the width of the cross and served as
its glimmering top. From a distance, the object appeared like a cruciform
set against a rising sun.
Out of the corner of his eye, Blair saw a magnesium-bright flash appear
on the shelf above his head. Merlin had decided to show himself. A
half-meter tall and generated by Blair's PPC, the holographic old
man/interface tossed his waist-length ponytail over his shoulder, then
smoothed out his black tunic and breeches, as though he had been
somewhere to wrinkle them.
"I know there's a war going on—but a requisitioned merchantman?
What are we on, a garbage run? Delivering groceries?" Merlin's
clean-shaven face tightened like a piece of stretched leather.
Blair ignored him, having learned since age five that Merlin's ranting
would soon evaporate were he denied an audience.
"The Diligent?" Merlin continued. "Please—the Dilapidated is more like
it. The Deluded. The Dilatory."
Frowning, Blair glanced at the disgusted little man. "Dilatory!"
Merlin snorted. "Of course. Inclined to delay, tardy, slow. From the
Latin dilator." He smirked. "I'm not keeping you up, am I?"
For a moment, Blair felt taken aback. Had he heard right? True, the
program knew quite well how to complain over every situation, but
cutting remarks of this kind should not have been at its disposal. "Where
did you pick up that sarcasm? My father didn't put that in your program.
And I know I didn't."
"Well, I don't just sit around waiting for you to power me up. I have my
own life, too, you know. I have aspirations. I dream that one day you'll
finally come to your senses and adjust my program so that I am the proper
Blair rolled his eyes. "I'm not changing my mind."
"What's the point of my being scaled down?"
"My father wanted you this way. Besides, you're less obtrusive."
"Obtrusive? I am not—"
"Run a diagnostic. You are. And while you're at it, tell me where you
picked up that sarcasm."
"I downloaded it from the mainframe at the academy while you were
in—" Merlin looked up.
"What is it?"
"Lieutenant Marshall is approaching the hatch."
Slapping the magazine over his chest to conceal his cross, Blair flinched
a little as the hatch opened and Todd Marshall stepped into the cabin, his
regulation blue uniform hanging loosely from his lanky frame, his closely
cropped blond hair grazing a sweaty pipe. He raked fingers through his
hair, scowled a moment at the conduit, and muttered, "What a bucket."
Then that slightly crazed gleam returned to his eyes, and his oversized
Adam's apple worked overtime. "I was going to come down here and get
you." He smiled devilishly, raising his brow. "I found some holos in the rec
that I know you'll wanna see."
Blair drew in a deep breath and nodded his understanding. "Don't you
get tired of that stuff? I don't think those women exist."
"Of course they don't. It's all part of the fantasy. But like I said, I was
going to come down here and get you so we could watch them. But the
captain stopped me on the way. Up and at 'em. He wants you on the
bridge. Top priority."
"Really? For what?"
Marshall shrugged, moving around the bunk to stare at Merlin. "He
didn't sound thrilled."
Merlin, now in standby mode and immobile for the most part,
continued to stare around the room, as though his face had become a
mask for another entity behind it. Blair had seen the effect many times,
and it didn't bother or fascinate him anymore.
But Marshall still found it spooky, intriguing. "What are you looking
at?" he asked Merlin, then regarded Blair. "What a waste of artificial
"Funny, Lieutenant. I was thinking the same about you." The holograph
glowered at Marshall.
"Merlin, off," Blair ordered.
"Of course I have no difficulty obeying your command, but if I may—"
"Merlin, off!"
With a huff, the little man vanished.
"Sorry about that," Blair said. "He's been hacking where he shouldn't."
"I'll hack him," Marshall said, shaking his head. "There weren't enough
know-it-alls in the universe… your father had to program another one."
Blair chuckled. "What? You don't want any more competition?"
"Now I know where the little man gets it," Marshall said, nodding. "Did
I tell you about the time I reprogrammed Marty Pinshaw's PPC so that it
would automatically read aloud his diary every time he said the word
waxed? Remember that guy back at the academy? That's all he ever said.
I waxed his ass. I waxed her ass. You get tired of listening to a guy talk
about how great he is, you know?"
"I totally agree."
"Hey, now. Come on. We'd better get upstairs." Marshall started for the
"I'll meet you," Blair said, reluctant to rise and reveal his cross.
Marshall began to mouth something, then simply shrugged and left.
Lowering the magazine, Blair sat up and took in a long breath. A chill
needled up his spine as he whispered the words, "Top priority." He
reached for his shirt beside him and bolted from the bunk.
On a day when you're feeling generous, Blair thought, you could call
the Diligent's bridge a bridge. But were you to be accurate, you might call
it a machine room like the ones used a half-dozen centuries ago to house
the huge, noisy compressors of large refrigeration units. Low-hanging
conduits, exposed circuit panels, torn crew seats, and poor lighting
completed the unglamorous effect. Blair got the feeling that he now
stepped into the bowels of a cyborg with a strong inclination for spicy
food. He ducked as he shifted by a small hatchway and moved farther onto
the bridge, careful to duck once more to avoid a major contusion from a
low-hanging hydraulic line. He found Marshall seated to starboard in the
co-pilot's chair, studying a navigation screen mounted on a swivel arm.
Glancing to port, he saw the captain stepping out from the adjoining
galley, blowing on a steaming mug of coffee.
Captain James Taggart hadn't said much during the voyage. His
reticence, Blair figured, stemmed from the embarrassment of
commanding a tape-and-coat-hanger transport like the Diligent. Funny,
though. Taggart didn't look the part of a gypsy cabby contracted by the
military. Dark, neatly groomed hair. A face that barely betrayed his
middle years. And there seemed something rugged, something handsome,
something pirate-like about the guy that made you just know he had seen
a lot more in the universe than would ever escape his lips. Marshall could
take a few lessons from the man.
Blair found the captain's gaze. "Sir?"
But the man's stare lowered to Blair's chest, and a strange look washed
over his face.
A quick glance down revealed that Blair's cross had slipped out from
behind his V-neck shirt. He quickly tucked it behind the fabric and
stiffened nervously to attention, waiting for a severe interrogation.
"I don't know who you know, Lieutenant, but you just received a Confed
One Secure Communication." Taggart gestured with his coffee mug
toward the bridge's center console.
Releasing a long mental sigh over the captain's decision to ignore the
cross, Blair hurried to the console, slid over to the comm screen, and keyed
an activation code on the touchpad.
"Identify," a computer voice said.
"Blair, Christopher. Lieutenant."
"Voice print recognized. Communication establishing…"
The screen filled with the god-like face of a man for whom the phrase
"living legend" remained as inadequate as it was trite. "Admiral Tolwyn."
"At ease, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir."
"I need a favor," Tolwyn said matter-of-factly, his gray eyes flashing.
Blair swallowed. "Anything, sir."
"You're currently outbound for Vega sector and the Tiger Claw. I need
you to hand-deliver an encrypted communications disc to Captain Sansky.
Message is incoming."
As he waited for the download to complete, Blair grew more confused.
The comm recorder beeped. He removed the minidisc and held it up.
"Begging the admiral's pardon, sir, but why not send it via drone to
Pegasus? It would be quicker…"
Slowly, Tolwyn shook his head, driving Blair into sudden silence. "The
Pegasus is gone, destroyed by a Kilrathi battle group twelve and a half
hours ago."
Blair's mouth fell open. Two of his classmates, Trish Melize and Sandra
Sotovsky, had been assigned to the Pegasus. He thought suddenly of their
parents, mothers and fathers he had met at the graduation ball, at the
barbecue, at the ceremony.
The war had snapped its fingers.
And two daughters were no more.
"See that Captain Sansky gets that disc," Tolwyn added.
"With all due respect, sir. Why me?"
Tolwyn's lips curled in a remote smile. "Right now you're all I've got."
His gaze averted a moment as he seemed to consider something. "I fought
with your father in the Pilgrim Wars. He was a good man—you look like
Without trying to offend the admiral, Blair pointed out a fact that had
shadowed him all of his life. "People say I have my mother's looks, sir."
At the mention of Blair's mother, the admiral's eyes narrowed, as
though he remembered something. "Yes, it must've been hard. They were
both good people. Godspeed. Tolwyn out."
Blair stared at the empty screen a moment before Marshall's voice
ruined the silence. "Can you believe he fought with your father? Man… you
got an in now. I'm you, I don't even worry about promotions."
Turning to Marshall, Blair closed his eyes. "Just shuddup."
On the Concordia's bridge, Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn read the obvious
look of displeasure on Commodore Bellegarde's boyish face. The
commodore rarely wore that look, and Tolwyn found it impossible not to
address. He cocked a brow. "You don't approve, Richard?"
"Of using Blair's kid? No, sir. I do not."
Bellegarde stepped forward. "I think we both know why."
The Diligent's navigation screens woke from their powerless slumber to
create 3-D grids as Captain James Taggart began tapping in coordinates.
Blair stood behind him, watching. "This milk run just got a little more
interesting," the captain said. "Set a course for Beacon One-forty-seven,
one-quarter impulse."
Marshall nodded and worked his touchpad. "Course for
One-forty-seven. One-quarter impulse." He frowned at a flashing red
warning that appeared at the top of his screen. "One-forty-seven , is
off-limits, sir. There's a one-hundred-thousand-kilometer no-fly zone
around it."
Taggart puffed air. "I said Beacon One-forty-seven. It's a short cut. Lose
the sir."
With an exaggerated shrug, Marshall regarded his screen, banged in
the course, then booted the engage pedal.
As Taggart fell back into his chair and yawned, Blair noticed a small,
dark tattoo emerge from beneath his collar. Blair recognized the writing: a
set of four vertical lines that comprised the Kilrathi language. Taggart
caught him staring, and Blair flinched toward the forward screen.
The Diligent streaked by the mottled red orb of Pluto, its tenuous
atmosphere escaping in tendrils toward its gray moon, Charon.
Taggart got abruptly to his feet. "I'll be in my quarters. Call me when
we come within a hundred klicks of the beacon."
"You got it," Marshall said. He waited for the captain to leave, then
stage-whispered, "I don't trust this guy. What does he mean by a 'short
"Got me," Blair said. "Did you see his neck?"
"What about it?"
"He's got a tattoo. Kilrathi writing. Wish I got a better look at it. Maybe
I can get something on it from Merlin."
"Tell you what I think. I think he's intentionally delaying us.
One-quarter impulse? Why don't we get out and push? And now you're
telling me he's got a Kilrathi tattoo? Hello. I can't find anything right with
this picture."
"Stay cool. Let me talk to him. We just don't know what he's about."
Blair stood and turned toward the hatchway.
"Hey," Marshall called out.
Blair faced the pilot, who now waved a small sidearm he had
withdrawn from a hidden calf holster. "I know what I'm about."