"War is somethin' amazing huh?" mused Grif as his fighter emerged from its launch tube and hurtled into the inky blackness of space. Vapour trails to either side of him marked the exit of the rest of the squadron from the space cruiser 'Indomitable'. "Lookit me.....two years ago I was sitting in a medium security detox centre serving a sentence that was getting longer instead of shorter. Now I'm number one fighter boy in a front line defence squadron. Go figure."
All of the fighters formed up on their leader and his wingman and began running system checks. The squadron was made up of ten Starforce pilots and five mercenaries. Grif was one of the mercs. He slotted his craft in the rear of the formation with his fellow mercs. They were not highly thought of by the Starforce pilots. Their trademark lack of discipline and respect for authority did not sit well with the officers, and their unorthodox and highly effective style of fighting made them a jealous target for the other pilots.. As the subroutines and system checks were running, Grif thought back on the incident that put him in prison three years ago.
He had gotten drunk, nothing unusual there, and stolen an unlocked air-bike. He had flown around the city for a while and then crashed it into the Thorian ambassador's swimming pool. Not a big crime as crimes go, except that there was a cocktail party in full swing with many of the planet's leading dignitaries in attendance. At the trial he had pleaded guilty, because he was, and expected a fine. The prison sentence came as a real shock. But looking back he supposed he deserved it. He hadn't known the full particulars of that night until one of the guards spelled them out for him.
Oh, he would have got off with a fine, except that when he buzzed the ambassador's house, he was naked and calling for the ambassador to bring out his dog. Grif had protested, saying he must have been calling for the ambassador's daughters, who, depending on who you talked to, were quite friendly with star pilots. But the guard had just laughed and cited several witnesses who had heard him calling out the labrador's name just before he crashed. Weather that was true or not Grif couldn't say, he still couldn't remember anything after the fourth bar.
Then came the war and everything changed. Earth had imposed economic sanctions against the Silrainians for their raids into Thorian space. Earth was a major importer of Silrainian jewellery and it was expected that sanctions would quickly bring the Silrainians to heel. Grif had heard the news in prison and laughed saying, "No matter how many times we make a mistake, we just don't learn from them. The stupid bastards have just started another war." And he had been right.
After the debacle at Alorius 12 where Starforce was soundly routed, losing ten thousand men in a single battle, they began to search desperately for pilots. Anyone who could fly suddenly became eligible to apply, even drunken has-beens who crash into swimming pools. So against his better judgment Grif had signed up as a freelance fighter pilot. He was freed into the custody of the Starforce battleship Indomitable.
Two years on the front line had sobered him up and honed his somewhat dubious skills. As a pilot the best that could be said about him was that he was reckless. But Grif had one advantage..... he was as cunning as a shithouse rat.
"All fighters hyper-jump on my mark" came the crackle over the comset. Grif mumbled a few choice curses and placed his finger on the hyper-jump button. "Mark." Grif punched the button and was slammed back in his seat as his craft surged into hyper-space.
The timeless void rushed past the outside of the ship without moving. This was a place Grif hated. Filled with impossibilities and paradoxes, it made him think about things that he would rather not. Lost years, relationships, a promising career. All gone, pissed against the wall.
A flashing red light signalling his imminent return to normal space snapped him out of his reverie. Flexing his shoulders and giving himself a shake, Grif banished the memories and dark thoughts to the recesses of his mind and prepared to re-enter space.
The shock of re-entry caught him unawares every time, and this time was no different. The sudden burst of light and the falling sensation hit him full in the stomach, and he nearly vomited. After a few gagging coughs he brought himself under control and checked his flight instruments. All systems showed green, and he reported this to the squadron leader. The other pilots reported in and then re-set their formation into battle configuration.
The squadron flew on in relative silence for about an hour, and just when Grif was beginning to think the sortie would be a non-contact, the squadron leader announced that they had company. Instantly the information picked up by the lead craft was relayed to the rest of the squadron.
Grif studied the readout and cursed. They were up against it this time. A huge Silrainian battleship squatted in the centre of a raft of smaller military vessels. This was a major assault force headed Earth's way. If somebody didn't deal with them they would do a hell of a lot of damage once they reached Earth's system.
"Oh shit!" said Grif as he realised that his squadron was 'somebody'. "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit." "All crew stand by to engage," came the call over the comset. Grif powered up his weapons systems as the first tingle of adrenalin surged into his bloodstream.
Grif and the squadron had taken on big tasks before. The Silrainian fighters were small and lightly armoured, and they lacked the punch of the Earth's fighters. But what they lacked in firepower they made up for in numbers. Silrainians were by nature hive beings. They were small, about two feet tall with soft purple furred bodies. They had large amber eyes that could be very expressive and dexterous hands that could make fine jewellery, or weapon systems. When they fought it was in swarms, like angry wasps. And while three or four was no problem for the Starforce pilots they seldom faced less than ten or fifteen each. This time they would face hundreds each.
"So what do ya think Grif?" came a young voice over the comset. "Do ya wanna go double or quits?" Grif smiled to himself. On a different mission he would take the young lieutenant up on the wager, and take his money. But not this time. This time he would just concentrate on staying alive.
"Nah, you already owe me five hundred, and I intend to see it as soon as we get back my lad" he retorted. Laughter could be heard from the other pilots through the comset until the squadron leader cut them off.
"Starforce, eagle three formation on me, keep it tight. You mercs, this is what you are paid for. I don't want to see you hanging around the fringes. Concentrate on the big bugger. Grif if you can pull off your magic, then do it. I'll pay the lad's bill myself if you do." Grif smiled to himself as one of his fellow mercs commented, "That'll be worth seein'."
Grif's 'magic trick' had become something of a legend in the Starforce. Three times they had gone up against a large ship, usually a frigate class, and somehow in the midst of battle Grif would disappear. A few moments later he would re-appear screaming to everyone to get the hell out of there. The spectacular explosions that followed as the warships tore themselves apart, usually rendered that area of space free of anything living. He had been interrogated about it, but he refused to divulge his secret and the brass let it go. He was on their side and doing damage to the enemy, that was all they cared about.
"Enemy ships inbound" came the warning, and all chatter was silenced as the pilots readied to engage. Swarms of Silrainian fighters emerged from the fleet and homed in on the Starforce squadron. Grif could imagine them making an angry buzzing sound.
"Multiple missile launch detected" came the warning from his defence system. Grif ignored it as the other pilots began firing counter measures. "Bastards wouldn't be so liberal if they had to pay for their own ordinance" he mumbled as he watched the two sets of missiles converge. A stream of explosions marked their meeting, like a line of fire crackers on Chinese New Year. Several of the Silrainin missiles got through however, requiring a second launching of counter measures. The small round of explosions was nothing like the first as the last of the in-coming missiles was dealt with.
Then they were amongst the fighters. Battle formation was quickly lost as both sides dodged and weaved after targets. Grif headed for the edge of the fighting trying to skirt around the cloud of Silrainian fighters. A bright flare and a shortened scream caused him to mutter, "Well there's five hundred bucks I won't see. Damn."
"Watch it Grif, you've got a swarm on your tail" warned one of the mercs.
"Yeah, yeah yeah, mumbled Grif as he slunk under the belly of one of the support ships. He punched the counter measures button, dropping three smart mines. They detonated as the swarm surged past decimating their ranks and punching a hole in the support ship.
"These guys..." He fired forward counter measures as another swarm attacked from the battleship. "Just don't...."
He slammed his fighter sideways, finger pressed hard on the laser cannon button, trying to carve a hole through the swarm ahead.
Incoming fire flared and bounced off his shields causing him to wince, but doing no damage.
"With their high and bloody mighty honour..."
Grif's defence panel was flashing panicked warnings at him as the swarm closed around his fighter.
"To kill the big buggers....."
He dropped his remaining smart mines and slammed his craft into a tight turn, heading for the rear of the huge battleship.
"You have to...."
Laser bursts erupted from the side of the Silrainian ship, flaring off his shields and taking out a few of the small fighters.
Grif yanked on the joystick as he passed the rear of the ship and headed into the exhaust plume. His shields instantly began to cave as the ions tore it to shreds.
"And shoot them....."
Shields failing, the defence board screaming, Grif held his breath and prayed the Silrainians hadn't found out his secret. "Up the arse!" he shouted as his ship erupted through the exhaust plume and into the eddy just behind the physical rear of the battleship.
They hadn't discovered his secret. Huge ventilation ducts led from the rear of the ship into its heart. They were unbarred. A small flaw, but one Grif had recognised and used to his advantage. Only a suicidal fool would fly into the exhaust plume of a ship. No shielding could withstand the ion pounding for more than a few seconds. But that was all Grif needed.
Now, in the calm of the ducting, Grif carefully guided his fighter towards the main reactor. He couldn't read the gliphs that comprised the Silrainian writing, but he had a fair idea where their power source was located.
The first time he had done this it had been a fluke. An accident. His ship had been hit and he had lost control for a few seconds. When he regained control he was caught in the eddy behind the frigate. The ducting was open before him and Grif had seized his chance. He had flown along the tunnel as far as he could, trying to find a weak spot, without success. So he had turned his lasers on the wall, blasting indiscriminately. Then he had punched up full power and fled.
Now he had special ordinance on board for this job. A time detonating nuclear device. Once he dropped it, he would have about thirty seconds to exit the ship and jump to hyper-space. Not long. But long enough.
Grif wiped the nervous sweat from his face and hands, then checked on his shield status. Two more minutes and they would be fully regenerated. Two minutes to sit and wait, and sweat. The comset was silent, weather there was no-one left outside or the battleship itself was blocking his communications, Grif couldn't tell.
He ran a check over the defence panel. He had no counter measures left, laser power was at fifty percent. Four stabilising units were damaged, which would make landing back aboard the Indomitable tricky.
One minute to go. Grif's mind began to drift. To the wife he had, and sometimes missed. He remembered her as she was when they got married. Young and vibrant with a sweet voice that set his nerves tingling. She wasn't young any more and her voice took on the tone of a spitting viper when she spoke to him, which was not often.
He thought of the bastard that slimed his way into her bed when he was away trying to earn a living. Working in space was a lonely job for those who chose to work there. But it was worse for those left behind. Grif didn't really blame her for taking a lover. But what hurt was that the man was a slimy loser. And still she had preferred his company to Grifs.
Grif wondered if he still walked with a cane. "Serves him right" he muttered. "Broken legs is the least I should have given him."
Grif had a son, thirteen years old now, probably. What would he think of his old man out here fighting for Earth's freedom? He had adored his father as a child, sitting wide eyed on his knee when Grif was home on leave. Grif would tell him tales of star travel and adventure on exotic worlds. He loved his son and wanted so much to be a hero in his eyes. But the snide remarks from his wife and the corruption from her new man put paid to that. His drinking probably hadn't helped either.
Would his son be proud of his once fallen father? Probably not. He would more than likely call him a murdering killer of cute, harmless aliens. Visions of his son marching through the streets holding protest banners denouncing Earth's Starforce defence of the solar system blazed across his mind.
"Ah shit! he exclaimed, and pulled the release lever. "To hell with the shields."
A small globe detached itself from his fighter's belly and hovered in the weightlessness. Grif pushed the throttle up towards maximum. The sides of the duct flashed past, seeming much closer than they had on the way in. All the while a mental timer was ticking away the seconds in his head.
"Bloody idiot. Should have waited another minute."
"Need more thrust or we're gonna fry." He pushed the throttle all the way forward.
"This was a dumb idea Grif, really really dumb!"
He could see the end of the duct, and beyond that the exhaust plume. It all looked very far away.
Grif burst out of the duct and carved through the exhaust. His shields melted and caved completely just as he made it out.
"Run you bastards, run like hell!" he screamed into the comset as he punched the button for hyper-space.
The welcoming blankness of hyper-space engulfed Grif's fighter like the warm bosom of an overly large aunt. He let out a grateful sigh and slumped down in his seat. His computer registered six other ships in hyper-space with him. Grif smiled as he recognised one as being the squadron commander. He looked out the cockpit window at the nothingness rushing past and said, "Looks like I'll get my five hundred bucks after all."
Bio:I have been writing for several years now (because I am too broke to buy books) and have several "marines" stories as well as a fantasy novel. When I am not writing for pleasure or work (I teach at a secondary school) I climb rocks, or try denting them with my head by jumping off my mountain bike at high speed. I would love to hear what people think of my writing, good or bad. Any criticism can only make me better, so post a comment or e-mail me
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