Wingcommander Theisen Calaver gazed out the canopy into the starry black void of sector WX-29. The landscape beyond consisted of jagged rocks shaped into points by solar winds, and vast asteroid belts of iron ore. Theisen sighed. They were late.
Theisen’s wing had been dispatched to deal with increased pirate raids in the Federation-controlled sector. Several guarded supply convoys had been taken out in recent months and the higher-ups wanted it to stop. So here they were, waiting in ambush as a decoy freight convoy slowly made their way across the sector.
Only the pirates hadn’t shown up.
Just as Commander Calaver’s eyes began to grow heavy and his pilot chair began to grow too comfortable, a single red blip surfaced on the radar. Theisen bolted upright, all thoughts of sleep gone. Two more blips joined the first, and they began making their way towards the convoy.
“Hammer Squad, action stations! We have three contacts!” Theisen broadcast to his wingmates. Silently, five blue points of light began to glow outside his canopy as his squad cycled up the engines of their Federation fighters. “Weapons hot. Break and engage.”
Two Tigers, two Wolfs, a Lynx-M, and a Parallax kicked on their afterburners and streaked toward their targets. The three interceptors were a patchwork of scrap metal and salvaged parts. Two were older model Hawks with random Jericho and Empire parts, and the leader was a beat-up Dvergr 2. All were painted dark grey with blood-red streaks and had metal spikes welded to their hulls. And all were flying the insignia of the Jolly Roger.
Skall and Cockney broke left and engaged one of the Zombie-Hawks while Grishom and Thud broke right. Theisen and his wingmate Scamp zeroed in on the leader. The pirate interceptors had forgotten all about the convoy, and scattered into defensive maneuvers.
“Got him!” Thud crowed as his missle found its mark. The Hawk exploded into a brilliant ball of yellow flame with bits of debris flowering out from its center.
“This guy’s finished,” Skall and Cockney were chasing down their own interceptor which was spouting ghouts of flame from several ruptures in its hull.
There was a loud alert ping from Theisen’s radar. Three more bilps had appeared. Two Zombie-Katanas and Zombie-Templar. “Heads up Hammer Squad! We have three more bogeys incoming!”
“Roger that, Commander,” Grishom and Thud had circled around. “We’ve got them in our crosshairs.”
“Keep it by the numbers, Thud. We don’t need any heroes today.”
“You worry too much, Commander.”
Skall and Cockney finished their target and joined Grishom and Thud’s formation. Theisen was suddenly aware of an object just out of the corner of his eye. His head snaped around just in time to see the Dvergr heading straight for Scamp. “Scamp! Go evasive!”
The small interceptor slammed into the side of Scamp’s Tiger and detonated. The shockwave threw debris out in a deadly ball of shrapnel. Theisen stared in numb shock at the space where Scamp had just been, before radio chatter from his squad snapped him back to reality.
“Nuke, NUKE!!! Get out of there! Break, break, break!” A blinding white flash of light swallowed Thud’s Lynx-M and Grishom’s Wolf.
“NO!” howled Skall. “No, no, NO! THUD! Thud, respond! Grishom!”
“They’re gone, Skall” Cockney’s voice was low and quiet, “get your head back in the game. We’re not out of this yet.”
Commander Calaver brought his Parallax around into formation with Skall and Cockney, “Alright boys, lets even the score.”
All three fighters focused their fire on the guard frigate that had launched the tactical warhead. Its phase shield sparked and sputtered as it tried to absorb the incoming damage. Then the shield fell and the ship detonated. But not before…
“MINES! Pull up, pull up!” Cockney shouted. A hundred deadly glowing spheres were spreading out from where the guard frigate had been. The Parallax’s wing grazed the edge of the field and detonated one of the red spheres. The explosion knocked Theisen out of his seat and slammed his head against the canopy. Blood trickled down his brow and into his eye. A quick scan of his HUD showed the Parallax’s shield was completely disabled.
“I’ve got no shield,” Theisen winced at the throbbing pain in his head. “keep those tacklers off me.”
“10-4 Commander.” Skall and Cockney came back around on Theisen’s wing. “Skall, break right and see if you can hook that bogey. I’ll see if I can get on his tail.”
Skall’s Wolf dipped low and drew fire from the lead Katana. Cockney and Theisen launched into close pursuit, their targeting computers trying to draw a lock. Skall whipped around a large asteroid, barely staying off the surface. His vertical thrusters flashed as he compensated for the terrain. Then he rolled out into open space, heading for another cluster of rock about 5,000 km out.
Without warning, Skall’s ship went from 560 m/s to full-stop. Theisen heard the crack of Skall’s head hitting the console over the comm before it was replaced by static. Collision alarms began to scream in Theisen’s ears as he yanked back on the stick. The explosion from Skall’s ship seemed to reveal an invisible wall in space that rippled from the impact.
And then Theisen’s Parallax was skimming the surface of a massive dreadnaught as it de-cloaked and opened fire. Just off to starboard was a bright red-orange logo; the insiginia of the Jericho Elite.
“Mother of… Cockney! These aren’t pirates! This is a Jericho ambush squad! We need to get out of here NOW!” The dreadnaught was beginning to launch fighters from its landing bays.
"Right you are, Commander! I’m right behind… " Cockney didn’t make it. The dreadnaught made sure of that.
Theisen was breathing heavilly, and the combination of sweat and blood running into his eyes made it nearly impossible to see. He threw the Parallax into a roll that brought him close to the surface of an asteroid. He heard the missile-lock warning tone and instinctively engaged the Parallax’s cloak. The missile flashed past his canopy and cratered into the asteroid surface. Theisen pulled hard to port, trying to avoid the deadly shower of rocks that erupted from where the rocket impacted. Fragments ripped through his wing and starboard afterburner, spilling vital liquids into space. His cloak sputtered and failed, leaving him exposed and wounded.
The Parallax was pulling hard to starboard now, and Theisen had to fight hard to keep the fighter under control. Yellow tracers pierced the blackness outside. Then a single railgun shell tore through the cockpit wall and shattered the flight computer. The internal liquid-metal lining of the ship’s hull sealed the breach, but life support was gone. Theisen pulled on his oxygen mask, but already he could see his breath in the air. His vision began to go black at the edges and his fingers grew stiff on the stick as frost crept over the canopy glass.
And then everything went dark.