- Chapter 9 -
planet Tolan, along the northern coast, Delvrin Province Coastal
Tower Light No.2, 4:07 AM
Arin Cao pulled hard on the corroded metallic knob until the sticking wooden door finally opened. The top and bottom of the warped wood wobbled noisily once released and Arin Cao made a mental note for the hundredth time to do the long needed repairs.
As soon as he found some time in his busy schedule.
The warm light from within now flooded out through the open doorway to illuminate the steps and slightly beyond into the pre-dawn darkness. Peering out briefly at the cool Tolan world, he hesitated before stepping outside. The chill in the air drew a mild shiver from his aging body, stifling a yawn that was almost completed in time. The scent of the ocean hung heavily in the moist, still air, filling his nose with its familiar aroma. Familiar, yet he noticed it everyday as someone who appreciated its subtle perfection. Perfection in the eyes, ears, and nose of someone like Arin Cao who was born a mere twenty paces up the beach and who had lived all of his life within earshot of the pounding surf. This was, always was, his home. The soles of his shoes scraped loudly against the concrete steps until his feet settled comfortably into the softness of the sand.
Arin Cao found his familiar beach along Tolan's largest ocean cloaked in a thick mist of fog that was nearly opaque. High above him, the powerful beam of the tower light swept left to right in a circular motion, its light strangely diffused as it pierced the heavy fog. At the base of the towerlight, the fog seemed to be everywhere but right where Arin Cao stood. The light from the open door made the fog above him shine like the eerie ceiling of mist that it was. He could hear the surf pound the beach not a hundred feet away, yet could not see any of it through the darkness and fog around him.
Where he stood was all of Tolan left to Arin Cao that night.
Arin Cao never rose before the sun. It had been the sudden thunder that brought him out so early. Thunder without rain was unusual here. Diffused flashes of brilliant lightning seemed to be happening everywhere overhead, followed almost immediately by familiar cracks and booms. It was a fantastic lightshow produced by the rotating towerlight and the lightning. But no rain appeared. Curious, thought Arin Cao, very curious. He walked out toward the beach to wonder at the weather.
A blinding orange and white flash illuminated the fog followed immediately by a thunderous boom. Arin Cao nearly fell to his knees with surprise, then laughed aloud for allowing himself be so easily frightened.
"That was a good one!" he remarked. "This is sure to be some storm." But the wind was still and the fog remained undisturbed.
It was then that a small piece of metal fell out of the opaque sky, landing with a thud just a few feet away. It appeared to be smoking as Arin Cao took the few steps to it and bent at the waist to inspect it. Reaching down to pick it up, Arin Cao discovered it was indeed very hot. He dropped it immediately, shaking his pained fingers to relieve them. A few feet away, another scrap of metal clanged against a small rock, spinning crazily as it rebounded away into the darkness. Something else hit the sand somewhere behind him and Arin Cao turned slowly with the most curious look on his face.
He heard whistling overhead.
Just as he looked up, he saw a huge black tire attached to a metallic shaft appear out of the fog ceiling. Jumping more from fright than intent, he managed to let the strange object miss him as it slammed hard into the soft sand. The rubber tire burned brightly.
Arin Cao had no time for any more words as more metal fragments and material began to rain down around him. Huge pieces of what appeared to him to be parts of a military aircraft fell through the fog to pound into the beach area. Arin Cao ran for his life, dodging large and small fragments of every imaginable kind of torn machinery. A massive piece hit hard not five feet in front of the frantic towerlight shepherd. Trying desperately not to fall over it as he ran, Arin Cao still almost fell to his knees from fright. The dim light from the door let him see a dead Tolan fighter pilot, still strapped into his ejection seat. The blood-soaked corpse stared straight ahead, his lifeless eyes open wide. Arin Cao hesitated only a second before he lunged quickly for the safety of the towerlight door. The deluge of debris continued all around him, many small pieces hitting him, tearing at his clothes and bruising and burning his body, but somehow, with the luck of a shepherd, he leapt the last few feet to the open doorway, got inside, and slammed the reluctant door closed.
The shriek of a flaming Tolan Warhawk, torn and twisted, smashed into the top of the towerlight, instantly shearing the top forty feet of glass and stone away in a brilliant explosion. Debris mixed with flaming fuel buried the remaining lower part of the tower.
The part that sheltered Arin Cao.
Fifteen thousand feet above the coast of Delvrin Province
"Who was that? Who just went down?" The squadron commander's voice betrayed his anger at losing another aircraft, another of his people.
Commander Dorn of Fighter Wing 21, the "Red Wings", had seen the wreckage of the first casualty fall into the fog far below, but didn't get a good look at the second before it too disappeared down into the murky gray mass that hung over the coast.
"Titho, sir! He took a shot from her eyes! Shit, he didn't ...<squeal><squawk> Red Two."
"I copy, Red Two. Aircraft that transmitted before, say again."
"I said worthless bitch", the familiar voice of Red Six replied. "Sir."
Dorn felt the same burning hatred rise up inside himself, but he couldn't indulge himself right now. He had a squadron to command.
"Alright, KNOCK IT OFF! Let's have a little radio discipline, gentlemen. Watch her; stay tight; check your fuel."
The Tolan Warhawk was a beautifully sleek aircraft with wings that curled into an ellipse around a smoothly tapered fuselage. That elliptical wing narrowed and swept back to meet the top of a rakish tail giving the aircraft an oval appearance when viewed from the front. Every surface of the Warhawk created lift, allowing it to perform incredible maneuvers. Powered by a cluster of three pulse-jet engines pyramided together in the stern just below the tail, it could accelerate rapidly to speeds in excess of 2400 miles per hour when required to do so.
At the root of each wing was a slight bulge that flared smoothly from the fuselage. Within each was the main armament of the Warhawk: a Kelso-Vreelan x06 Freefire Chain Gun. Made of ceramic and carbon-fiber materials, these guns were capable of firing 600 rounds per minute of exploding one-inch ceramic bullets with a muzzle velocity that would dent Vendorian steel - the hardest material in the known Universe. Given enough time, the K-Vx06 could eventually penetrate a Vendorian steel hull.
The Warhawk was the mainstay of Tolan Air Defense, in service for decades and improved upon by each generation of Tolanai to provide protection against various non-Supremis species who would threaten Tolan airspace. In that role, the Warhawk was supreme and now few species saw any profit in raiding Tolan. The only limiting factor of the aircraft was the relative fragility of the pilots. Tolans were humanoid, with all the abilities and disabilities of that genus of species. They were flesh and blood, yet what made all the difference was that they were willing to give up both.
The Tolanai had guts.
The remaining eight aircraft of Fighter Wing 21 circled around a now hovering Velorian. A'ya glared out at the menacing Tolan Warhawks, her fists closed and raised to counterattack at the first aggressive sign from these machines. Their weapons didn't pose any great risk to her, but they did sting and the force of the impacts would fling A'ya around the sky. She wasn't in the mood to be pushed around.
Dorn watched her as he pulled his Warhawk into a tighter turn and keyed his radio. He was done collecting his thoughts.
"Alright, here's the situation. We got two down and a very pissed off Vel hovering inside our track. We keep her here. Got that? She goes nowhere. If she moves, we attack. Otherwise, hold fire."
No more losses, damn it. Dorn cursed his own stupidity at jumping this rogue Velorian with the squadron as if she were a nothing more than a marauding Zel pirate ship. She proved to be much more as she literally shredded his lead aircraft and then exploded a second ship with heat beams from her eyes. Home, he thought, he had to get the rest of his men home. Dorn also had to follow his orders. Unfortunately, his duty made those orders come first.
TO: All Wings/All Commands
For immediate implementation - maximum effort
TAC Order 517-64-983
All unidentified intruders into Tolan airspace from outside the Tolan planetary environment will be intercepted and fired upon under Plan Orange, Authorization-TL98, Mitre One. Such intrusions should be considered an overt act of war, but offensive action is to be limited as follows.
1. Upon the initiation of hostilities, unidentified intruders will be contained and movement from the area restricted with maximum effort until relieved by the resident Velorian Protector.
2. Upon engagement of the intruder by the resident Velorian Protector, Tolan forces will remain on station to support the resident Velorian Protector as required.
Maximum effort. Dorn knew what that meant. The entire squadron knew. The orders were signed by the Air Marshall himself, fixing the responsibility for the consequences. Consequences made acceptable by the seriousness of the situation. This intruder had been killing innocent people all over Tolan. She had to be stopped and today she was, by FW21. If the Commander of FW21 had anything to say about it, she wasn't going anywhere. Dorn was in command and that gave him everything to say about it.
"Close it up, Red Four. CLOSE IT UP!"
A Tolan Warhawk with a large silver "4" on a red field that covered the top half of its curved wings tightened its turn and swung in a little closer to A'ya. She turned to face it, but did nothing except watch as the sleek aircraft roared around her with the others. Overhead, two FW21 aircraft circled, forming a top cap while two more circled down below to close the back door. For the moment, A'ya seemed content to merely glare menacingly at the annoying insects that encircled her.
But then she grew bored.
On Tetra, early afternoon
"Flare! Shut up!"
William didn't bother to look up from the old fountain where he was rinsing his face in the warm water. Flare was always barking at some supposed threat, usually a dust-devil or some other benign visitor. It had been such a long day so far, wrestling the Sabre into that newly dug revetment. Just getting it mounted on that makeshift launchrail was a job and a half and now William was in no mood for Flare's antics.
"For cryin' out loud, Flare!"
William was leaning over the rim of the fountain with water streaming off his face. He was just clearing his eyes when Phil stepped forward.
"Sir, the creature appears to be looking upward."
"Oh, shit!" exclaimed William as he quickly slung the remaining water from his face with his hand. He spun around and joined Flare in looking up at the sky.
"Do you see anything, Phil? Anything at all?" asked William.
Flare settled into a low rumbling growl. Her fur started to stand up along her shoulders and back. William patted her fondly as he continued to scan the sky.
"Good girl. Good ol' dog, Flare." She wagged her tail once then resumed her angry posture.
Phil squinted hard, turning his head, unsure about what he thought he saw.
"Sir? There, just coming along the east ridge of the Faldref. Is there something moving out there?"
William peered in the direction that held Phil's attention and refocused using his telescopic vision. Even with his enhancement, he could barely make out the silhouettes.
"Looks like four or five Kintzi K fighters, Phil. Probably another probe, just seeing if the Protector is awake or not. Shit, if Lillith was here she'd be having fits! Probably have run `em off by now."
Phil looked up at William.
"Yes, sir, but the Mistress is indeed not here."
No, no she's not." William ran his hand along his chin in thought. "Maybe they'll just move on and report back what they didn't find here. They've never been much of a problem before."
"Perhaps that was because of the active participation of the Mistress, sir?"
"Yeah, you're right, Phil. Tell you what, let's spool up the APUs in the Sabre and crank the rail up, just in case."
"That would be a prudent course of action, sir. May I ...."
"I'll do it!" interrupted Mina as she scampered off toward the revetment.
William never took his eyes off the distant objects in the sky as he called out to her.
"Thanks, Mina! Don't touch anything else in there."
Mina didn't respond. She was already too far away to hear him.
William continued to observe the rapid Kintzi K's. He seemed to think out loud as he mumbled to himself.
"Just keep going, kitties. We don't want any problems."
"Sir?" Phil asked. "Should we activate the `sweetheart' device?"
"Can we do it quickly if we need it, Phil?"
"Yes, sir. I believe the time to activation would be minimal."
"Is the guy in the tower awake?"
"Yes, sir. We removed the helmet device from the tower recently. That appears to have been the source of that particular problem."
"Sounds good, Phil, but let's see what the Kintzi do before we sound the alarm. I don't want too many false alarms. That just makes folks second-guess every alarm they hear."
From the nearby revetment, the climbing whine of the Auxiliary Power Units, the APUs, could be heard. Mina was bringing them up to power.
"What the hell was that!" exclaimed William as he quickly took his eyes off the Kintzi to glance back at the revetment. He could see all four Traynor guns on the Sabre deployed from their fairings.
"Oh, SHIT!" remarked William as his head immediately snapped back in the direction of the distant Kintzi craft.
"Is there a problem, sir? The Kintzi would not have sensed the weapon carrier mechanism, would they, sir?"
William started to walk rapidly toward the Sabre. He kept glancing back at the Kintzi.
"It's not that, Phil. It's the Traynors. They autotrack targets when the barrels deploy."
Phil trundled along behind.
"Would not the Kintzi detect being tracked, sir?"
"Damn right they would."
William slowed as he noticed something different about the far Kintzi craft. They seemed to have stopped moving. William froze.
"Phil," said William nervously, "they're not moving."
"Most interesting, sir. Is a Kintzi K capable of hovering?"
"No, Phil." William's eyes were locked on the far dots in the sky as his words made Phil spin quickly to look out there as well.
"Sir," asked Phil nervously, "which way are they going?"
Before William could answer, he noticed something new about the Kintzi spacecraft.
They were becoming larger.
"ALARM!!" shouted William.
The siren was wailing and rising in pitch before he even finished his warning. Everywhere, Tetrites scattered to their nests as William ran frantically to the idling Sabre.
From the distant ridges of the towering Faldref Mountains, four Kintzi K fighters mushroomed in size as they rapidly approached the habitat area. Brilliant yellow lights blinked along the leading edge of their paw-shaped craft just an instant before columns of Tetrite dust exploded upward from the ground around the revetment. The only sounds were the explosions of the Kintzi shells and the siren. The only sounds, that is, until the Kintzi K's passed overhead at nearly supersonic speeds. The roar of their engines and the pok-pok sounds of their slow-firing automatic weapons followed them immediately after their passing, drowning out the steady wail of the ancient air raid siren.
"Krag, what are you doing? I authorized no attacks!" Captain Fhar, the Kintzi commander shrieked into his radio, helplessly watching from high orbit as four of his craft deviated from the mission into a surface attack.
"I detected a weapons lock!" Krag's excited voice filled the Captain Fhar's cockpit. "It is a challenge that I must face! There is no Velorian here, only bugs with guns. The planet is ours for the taking!"
"Your orders were to probe, not to start a war! Cease fire and reform on my lead NOW!"
"Weapons have been drawn and only blood must follow! I cannot withdraw now! If you have no stomach for battle, Captain, then leave it to my flight. Kintzi's! Attack at will! We will feed on their carcasses tonight!"
"KRAG!" growled Fhar as he pounded his console in frustration.
"MOVEMENT! MOVEMENT! RED ONE! MY GODS!"
The Commander twisted wildly in his harness trying to see who the hell was yelling. In their excitement, they forgot to identify themselves and now everyone except the one screaming into the radio was looking to see who that pilot was. The explosion and tumbling remnants of Red Four as A'ya blasted directly through it brought an immediate answer. The Commander keyed his mike as he flung his Warhawk into a 9-g turn in pursuit.
"GO, GO, GO! ALL RED WING FLIGHTS, ATTACK, REPEAT, ATTACK! HIGH CAP AND LOW CAP ON THE FLANKS. BREAK. DELVIN STATION, RED WING, THE INTRUDER IS MOVING TOWARD THE CANYONS. WE ARE ENGAGING, REPEAT, WE ARE ENGAGING. REQUEST ETA VELPRO."
"I'm coming, Commander! Hang on, Red Wings!"
Carpathia's familiar voice came through the radio strong and clear. She was close by.
The Tolan Warhawks jinked and rolled in pursuit of A'ya as she led them on a chase toward the Beldrahar Canyons.
"Red One! Red Four! I have the shot!"
"Don't ask, kid! SHOOT!"
Exploding ceramic bullets impacted A'ya at the bottom of her feet, her butt, and multiple hits tore at the back of her head. The impacts threw A'ya into a wild tumbling spin for a moment before she jinked into an impossible tight downward break.
"KID! BREAK LEFT! BREAK LEFT!"
A'ya burst through the floor of the young rookie's cockpit, flinging shrapnel everywhere. The horrified pilot screamed wildly as the enraged Velorian gripped the front of his shoulder straps and burst upward, shredding him through the shattered canopy. The friction of the sudden blast of 700 mile per hour winds instantly made his torn body explode into flames. As the broken Tolan Warhawk yawed to the right to tumble into the deep canyons below, A'ya defiantly tossed what was left of the rookie pilot away as if it were trash. Her point made, she rolled back onto her original course, but at a much more leisurely pace.
The frequency was absolutely silent. Dorn's hands were shaking from the rage he now felt building within him.
"Sir?" One of the remaining pilots broke the silence, but Dorn couldn't respond.
"Red One, the intruder is leaving. Should we pursue?"
Dorn watched A'ya pull slowly up into a sweeping arc, obviously intending to leave the planet. His eyes narrowed as he jammed his throttles forward to the stops.
"Like hell!" he muttered with contempt.
The Warhawk accelerated rapidly, shaking from the power generated by its giant engines. Dorn angled his craft to intercept A'ya's track, concentrating hard on a point of impact just between her shoulders. His men were dying around him. Half of them were already down. He would either put a stop to it or die with them. Either option was fine with Dorn right now.
"Maximum effort." Dorn's words were lost in the din of the screaming Warhawk's cockpit as A'ya's back grew in size in his windscreen.
Another Velorian flashed directly over his cockpit so fast and so close that the turbulence of her passing rocked Dorn's ship. He couldn't believe what he saw until a female voice on the radio crackled the news in his ears!
"You are relieved, Commander!"
Dorn slammed his Warhawk into a hard right turn, almost too tight. Grunting loudly to fight against the unconsciousness that narrowed his sight, he tried to shout into the radio. His men could barely understand the terribly distorted words, but somehow they knew what he was saying.
"RED WINGS, MAKE WAY FOR THE LADY!!"
The Fallen continues....
and suggestions are always appreciated!