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by Dave Bara
Category: Science Fiction/Young Adult
Description: Sixteen-year-old Ethan Cochran is a lot like any other high school kid his age; he plays football, he has a girlfriend, he goes to proms. But when he graduates two years early, instead of going to college or learning the family business, Ethan does something a bit different; he volunteers to be a fighter pilot in the Colonial Sector Navy. Once in the Navy Ethan finds things aren't exactly the way they were portrayed back on Earth. The alien Kalian are aggressively pushing humans off of their original twelve colonies. WorldGov, a coalition of business and government that runs the Earth and keeps it a paradise, is out in the colonies exploiting their resources and leaving environmental disasters behind. And the colonists? They aren't really the happy pioneers portrayed on TV, more like grumpy conscripts. Despite his reservations Ethan is commissioned to pilot the navy's most powerful weapon of defense against the Kalian, the SPEEDWING. Together with his friends Meredith and Sono they fight to defend the Earth from these aggressive invaders. Things take a turn for the worse when Ethan is shot down and captured by a Kalian. Only then does he discover more unpleasant truths; his "alien" captor is a friend, and the Kalian are all too human.
eBook Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: September 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [278 KB]
Reading time: 183-256 min.
I tracked the Kalian raider with my forward coil cannon.
"S-5 to wing leader, I have a lock on K-raider 12. Request permission to engage and fire!"
"Permission granted!" came the gravel-voiced reply through my EVA suit COM. It was the voice of Wing Leader Calvin, my squadron CO and overall mission commander.
"Don't miss!" he added.
I took the advice seriously and clicked on my tactical assist. It gave me a shooting target in my single-glass virtual display that showed the Kalian raider bobbing and weaving like a hummingbird trying to shake me. I stayed with him. The sound of the weapons lock control horn clicking in and out as he grew more desperate was annoying the hell out of me. I switched it off with my thumb control and focused on the visual target going from red to amber to green as I got a better and better bead on him. He broke starboard and down, seeking the safety of the asteroid belt, but I wasn't gonna let him get there. I waited tense seconds as the lock flickered from amber back into green and then back to amber again. I watched his pattern of jukes and turns, studying him, closer...closer...
I got a flicker of green and fired the cannon. The orange energy bolt clipped his wing and then vaporized a small rock floating nearby. He tucked under a larger asteroid and then spun hard to port in a twirling climb, his ramjets burning hydrazine fuel as he ascended. I was still locked on him, both mentally and through the tactical display. I slammed on my ramjets for a six-second burn to match him for course and speed. His acceleration was impossible to maintain in the type of climb he was trying to make, so I had to settle for losing ground while maintaining my tactical lock.
He pulled away from me and then suddenly cut his burn, but he was still accelerating towards Drava, a round, rocky minor planet in the Jilese system where the Kalian were rumored to have a base. There's no way he'd lead me right into their base, I thought. Not at this speed anyway. He'll splatter on the surface of Drava before he can turn. I calculated the length of his fuel burn in my head, basing it on my own burn to track him. He had to have run his ramjets for twelve seconds, which would put his speed at a good .0015 light. He had no chance to escape Drava's gravity well at that pace, unless...
He fired his ramjets once more. Insanity! Complete insanity in any normal situation, but this wasn't normal by any means. The Kalian raider accelerated again and spun towards Drava. I had only one chance to follow him according to the tactical computer.
I clicked with my left thumb and deactivated the tactical display. Calvin was on me in a second.
"Damn it, Cochrane! Turn your TAC back on or you'll lose him!"
My response was to fire my breaking jets and pull into an inverted 'C' dive relative to Drava. Then I hit my ramjets one last time.
I calculated I had only enough ram boost left for a seven-second burn, then it would be back to standard chemical impellers, enough to get home, but not enough to pursue and take out the Kalian.
Drava spun rapidly above me as I used her weak but constant gravity well to increase my own acceleration to .0018 light, enough for me to clear her, and if I had guessed right I'd have a clear shot at the raider.
The Kalian bogey came out of nowhere, spinning its trail of depleted hydrazine from the ramjet burst at my two o'clock. It was moving away from Drava, having used the small planet to mount an escape from my pursuit. He'd calculated perfectly; there was no way I could have followed him around Drava at his angle of attack and relative speed, so I'd used the "C" dive to give myself my one and only chance to catch him.
He had no idea I was there. Yellow hydrazine gas spilled out of his center-mounted triple engine cluster, making a tempting target, but he was too close for effective use of my A2A missiles. My wing coil cannon was a different story though, if only I could get off a shot.
I was coming in too fast of course, but I didn't let that stop me. Depleted hydrazine was a highly volatile gas, even in the vacuum of space, and one shot of my coil laser hitting the fuel at the right concentration levels would make an impressive incendiary display.
I turned off all my assists, including the COM so Calvin couldn't distract me anymore. The Kalian would have to let his ramjets cool for at least thirty seconds before he could fire his impellers or he'd ignite the hydrazine. I focused on his vapor trail, looking for the right density for ignition, then brought up the starboard wing cannon. My ramjet burst had ceased but I was still going so fast I would only have time for one, maybe two shots, and the port wing wouldn't be at the right angle. I fired my wing thrusters to angle me away from Drava, then took my best aim and fired the starboard coil cannon.
Not by much though. My shot got his attention and I saw his energy curve spike upwards as he fired up his impellers. He was taking a big chance, but then so was I. If he got moving before I could stall my forward momentum, I'd be a sitting duck to his superior impeller drive.
I eyeballed the vapor trail one last time, the Heads-Up display tracking my eye movements, targeting him with nothing but my best guess. I fired.
The orange lightning of the coil cannon lanced out at the Kalian raider. It crossed the trail of the hydrazine less than a hundred yards from his still-seething ramjets and ignited the vapor trail. It took only micro-seconds for the flame to cover the distance to his ramjet exhaust.
He exploded in a satisfying burst of yellow, blue, and orange sparks, indicating his EV capsule had been breached and the internal environment was venting oxygen into space. I had my kill.
I floated past his debris field and then activated my assists again. Calvin's voice was the first thing I heard.
"All right, Cochrane! Out of that sim! I want to see you in my office in five minutes!"
I shut down my simulator as the virtual 3D space display faded to black. I pulled my helmet off and wiped soaked sweat from my forehead, taking in a deep breath. Mr. Calvin, my high school flight instructor, was going to be mad, and I had five minutes to get myself ready to face him.
He was mad all right.
"Do you know how many kilometers you were away from your squadron?" he yelled, his face red with rage.
"No, sir," I said truthfully, hands behind my back as I stood at attention.
"Fourteen thousand clicks! Fourteen thousand clicks!" he bellowed at me while chewing on his unlit stogie and rubbing his crew-cut stubble in frustration. "No way you get back from there, no way! You're out of fuel or picked off by some Kalian stragglers long before you make it back!"
"I was focused on the kill, sir," I said.
"Focused? Focused to distraction I might add! You've never learned to fly safely. If it was up to me you'd never get in a proper Speedwing, Gunner's Cross or not!"
The Gunner's Cross went to any cadet who managed twenty kills in a single year of flight school training, and I'd just got my twentieth on the last day of school. For the third year in a row.
Calvin shoved my final progress report across his desk to me.
"Unfortunately it seems the Colonial Sector Navy only values kills in their pilots, not discipline. Looks like you'll be going to Hill Air Force Base for your training after all, Ethan, just like your dad."
I tried hard not to smile at Calvin. He was reaming me to make me a better pilot, but I already knew I was good. I was the best he'd ever taught.
"You just made it, son, despite my demerits for your undisciplined behavior, you got an eighty-eight. All I can do is pass you on to the trainers upstairs and hope they can do something with you." Calvin glared at me. He hated it when I was smug and silent.
"Now get outta my goddamn sight!" he yelled. "I don't wanna see you again until the game!"
"Yes, sir!" I snapped off a salute and then pivoted to go. I got my hand on his office door before I heard Calvin mutter quietly behind me.
"And congratulations, Ethan," he said.
"Thank you, sir," I replied without turning. Then I was gone through the door to find Sono and brag.