Title: "The End of a Saga"
Spoilers: Up to and including the game, 'Wing Commander 3: The Heart of the Tiger.'
Summary: A look into what went on with the diversionary fleet while Blair made his run on Kilrah.
Author's Notes: This story is a form of coda to the entire 'Kilrathi Saga' in the Wing Commander universe. I got the idea when I watched a video movie produced using footage from the WC3 game. Most of the information I used is found from the book as well as the very comprehensive Wing Commander fansite 'www dot wcnews dot com.'
This story hasn't been beta'd, so please be gentle.
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Location: Hyperion System, Inside Kilrathi Territory
Captain William Eisen gripped the sides of his command chair as his ship, the carrier TCS Victory, rocked from yet another nearby explosion. Point defenses were taking out a spread of missiles fired from a nearby Kilrathi destroyer. One of his carrier's escorts, the cruiser Apollo, was already moving in to engage, even though it was heavily damaged.
From where he sat the captain could make out the bulk of the Confed strike force tasked with going toe to toe with the local enemy garrison controlling this system. Confederation frigates, destroyers, cruisers and other support ships battled it out with their opposite numbers. The Victory and her battle group had been held back in reserve while the main fleet engaged the Kilrathi. Unfortunately, the fighting had gotten so bad that the admiral in charge of the operation called in all available ships.
Missiles and energy weapons of every conceivable design lanced between the lumbering ships, blowing through shields and shredding armor. Around and between the battling ships, innumerable fighters fought each other in a deadly dance of space combat. The vacuum of space was already littered with the wrecks of dead ships, burning hulks and dead crews.
All this, thought Eisen, to give enough time for an exceptional man who was armed with a very special bomb.
He still thought that the Temblor bomb was one hell of a long shot. But it was better than nothing, especially after what had happened to Admiral Tolwyn's Behemoth.
Somewhere deep inside the Kilrah system, Colonel Blair and his wing mates had to be making the run on the planet with the bomb that would, in theory, trigger a tectonic reaction that would shake the planet apart. All this was possible only because the Kilrathi homeworld was a geologically fragile planet.
This raid into the Kilrathi territory by the fleet was for the express purpose of giving Blair and his people time to sneak into the system and deliver the bomb.
Captain Eisen only prayed that all this sacrifice would be worth it and that he'd live long enough to see the end of the war.
Eisen looked over to see Communications Officer 'Radio' Rollins point to one of the large screens. The Apollo, its hull savaged and already leaking atmosphere from multiple hits, aimed itself towards the enemy destroyer, which seemed to figure out its opponent's intentions a shade too late. When the two hulls touched, the surrounding space erupted as their ordnances, as well as their fusion drives, exploded.
Forcing himself to look away, Eisen glanced at a tall, burly, bearded man with general's bars on his shoulders.
"Anything yet, Taggart?" he asked tightly.
Brigadier General James Taggart – 'Paladin' to his former flight mates – checked a single display. Aside from some incomprehensible numbers, it also showed a computer-enhanced picture of the planet Kilrah beamed to them from a cloaked satellite in high orbit. The video feed was time-delayed since any transmissions too powerful might tip off the enemy as to its location. Currently, the image showed Kilrah still intact. The head of Covert Operations in this sector only shook his head.
"No, Captain. All I can say is that we received a signal that Blair did manage to reach the last supply depot before starting his run. But that's all."
Before Eisen could ask anything else an alarm went off in the bridge. He ran to a Sensor Officer, cursed at what he saw on her screen, and hit the all-hands button.
"Attention, all hands! Brace for impact! We have one, possibly two, Skipper missiles inbound!"
A klaxon cut through the air as hatches throughout the ship slammed down, sealing off areas of the ship on the chance the missile hit.
Skipper missiles were nasty toys the Kilrathi had recently developed and brought into the frontlines. Once launched, they immediately cloaked and made a run for the nearest enemy ship. Fortunately, due to the imperfect technology, the cloak tended to flicker for a few precious seconds, making it vulnerable to attack.
"There it is!" Taggart said pointing out past the starboard viewport. From this distance the missile looked tiny, but before any point defense batteries could be brought to bear, it flickered back to invisibility. A second missile right behind the first also followed the same pattern.
Defense lasers immediately opened up, desperately flooding the immediate area in coherent light with the hopes of hitting the hidden cruise missile. Less than a kilometer away from the veritable fireworks, the missile flickered one last time before beginning its arc towards the carrier. Eisen grit his teeth as it started to disappear.
Suddenly, a damaged Hellcat medium fighter, trailing smoke and debris from a recent dogfight, appeared out of nowhere and let loose with its remaining weapons. The missile exploded just before it cloaked completely. A half-second later, another explosion erupted several hundred meters from the carrier, shaking the carrier to its core. Monitors dimmed and sparks flew from overloaded circuits. Small fires erupted here and there and emergency teams rushed to put them out. When the light from the blast faded Eisen blinked away the spots in his eyes.
"Damage report!" he demanded. "What happened to the second missile? Did we get it?"
"No…" Paladin slowly said, looking at a sensor screen. "It hit…the fighter."
"Good God," Eisen breathed.
Paladin was about to say something when his own screen beeped. He glanced at it and his eyes widened. Slipping back to his Scottish language, he swore in wonderment. Quickly he fed what showed on his screen to the main one overlooking the entire bridge.
Eisen frowned and looked at up at what caught the general's attention. His jaw dropped.
"Son of a bitch," he whispered.
Kilrah was dying.
Fire and explosions on a gargantuan scale erupted and fissured across whole continents. Chunks of the planet shot out into space from the unraveling fault lines all across the planet. Titanic gouts of fire and lava lanced out, hitting the main Kilrathi shipyards as well as all the surrounding ships. Finally, the core itself, its energies released by the Temblor Bomb, exploded sending chunks of mantle everywhere
Taggart and Eisen could only look from the screen and then to each other. Neither of them heard the entire bridge erupt in cheers. Rollins tried to yell above the din, saying that a Kilrathi named Melek had just made a general call to all Kilrathi forces everywhere to stand down, saying that the Kilrathi people had surrendered to the 'Heart of the Tiger' as well as the Confederation.
Even as this news came out, the entire enemy fleet stopped fighting almost as one. A similar call came from the admiral of the Confed fleet to remain at action stations but to cease fire until further orders.
Captain Eisen wearily sat down in his command chair, looking every one of his fifty-five years. A slight sting came to his eyes as the thought that the war was effectively over slowly sank in. His eyes roamed over the bridge of the Victory. Not just the people laughing, crying and celebrating around him, but the ship itself. People often say one gets attached to a ship and Eisen would never have disagreed with that statement. Like a loyal lover or friend, Victory – or 'Tin Can Sally' as she's affectionately known as – had stayed with him to the end.
After receiving many a hug and clap on the back, Paladin walked over. Eisen extended his hand and Taggart heartily took it.
"He did it," Paladin said. "Damn if he didn't."
Several months later, in an event beamed to every world and colony in the Confederation, the Kilrathi Empire officially ended thirty years of war with the signing of the peace treaty at Sector Headquarters.
Colonel Christopher Blair leaned back in his seat as the scene replayed itself on his newspad. He couldn't quite suppress a chuckle as he watched Melek fumble with the pen to sign the treaty.
"What's so funny?" Rachel Coriolis asked, looking away from the cabin viewport of the shuttle. Blair showed her and she laughed as well.
"Well, it happened about a week ago, so maybe that pen will be sent to you as a souvenir."
Blair snorted a laugh but his attention was quickly turned towards what was outside the viewport.
The TCS Victory hung in space in high Earth orbit. After a homecoming that was still being celebrated in parts of the planet, the carrier had been cleaned up of all battle damage and had a fresh coat of paint on her hull. Rather than decommission her, Confed felt that the carrier that had helped in ending three decades of war deserved something better.
The shuttle slowed and gently landed on the main flight deck. Once powered down, the boarding ramp descended and both Rachel and Blair started down. As they reached the deck, Blair noticed Rachel holding back.
"Not coming?" he asked.
"I think this is between you flyboys since I think I'll be in the way. Besides, I want to talk to some of my fellow techies here and see where they're going from here."
Blair nodded and started to make for the main exit when his eye caught the row of planes lining one end of the hangar. Initially, he thought they were the standard complement that the Victory had during the war. But as he walked closer to get a better look, he shook his head in wonder.
There, in pristine condition, sat a Hornet class Light Fighter, its distinctive triangular cockpit and wing-mounted laser cannons making it easily recognizable. Blair walked over and ran a loving hand over the plane that he'd first started flying with as a young rookie pilot on the Tiger's Claw, so many years ago. Someone had even gone so far as to stencil the 'Killer Bees' squadron logo on the side.
Next in line stood a Scimitar, then a Rapier and then a Raptor – all front line fighters during the Vega Campaign, as well as then-secret Operation: Thor's Hammer. To this day, Blair still had occasional nightmares on the raid behind enemy lines to kill the Kilrathi superweapon that had annihilated close to a quarter of a million people on the Goddard colony.
His walk abruptly stopped as the next plane came into view. The one ubiquitous fighter in the entire Kilrathi war had to have been the first generation Dralthi Medium Fighter. And here sat one of those very same 'Flying Pancakes,' good as new as if it just gotten off the construction line. Blair idly wondered where Confed had gotten such as old fighter. His face then fell as he remembered.
When Ralgha Nar Hhallas – Blair couldn't bring himself to call him Hobbes anymore – had defected fifteen years ago, the captain had brought his cruiser as a gift to the Confederation. Along with other fighters, it had a complement of Dralthi. The fighters were then used to disrupt an important ceremony held on the planet Firekka. The Kilrathi had occupied it as a sacrifice for their god, Sivar. A chill ran down Blair's back as he now remembered flying these ships through swarms of enemy squadrons, praying that no one noticed him as he gathered vital intel.
Past the Dralthi were lined up ships from when he'd served on the Concordia: a Ferret patrol fighter, an Epee, a Broadsword, a Sabre…even the experimental Morningstar when he flew with Paladin and Maniac on one of his Special Operations missions.
And there, right at the end, bathed in lights, was the F-103 Excalibur. The very one – Blair was surprised to see – that he'd flown on his bombing run to Kilrah. He didn't know how it got back into Confed hands since he'd been flown back to the fleet on a Kilrathi shuttle. For all he knew, it might have been a clause in the peace treaty. Just below the cockpit was stenciled the following in gold lettering:
Colonel Christopher 'Maverick' Blair
'The Heart of the Tiger'
Last to Kilrah
Blair actually grinned at seeing the last line. Some years back, his old friend, Jason 'Bear' Bondarevsky, had been wing commander of the TCS Tarawa when it'd made a similar raid to Kilrah to take out some shipyards on its biggest moon. He barely got back alive, but his ship, the first to reach and return from the enemy homeworld, had been christened with the title, 'First to Kilrah.'
Blair sighed. Maybe sometime in the future he would look up old Bear to see how he was doing. He looked up and down the line of craft one last time, each one provoking so many memories.
Once, they were state of the art fighter craft. Now they were reduced to museum pieces, relics of a war thankfully over. He shook himself out of his reverie as he checked his watch and realized he was going to be late.
He made a beeline for the main entrance. As he walked through he noticed teams of technicians cleaning here and there, repainting bulkheads or replacing frayed carpeting. Victory was definitely getting the royal treatment. The main lift opened and Blair entered, hitting a button. It ascended for about a minute before opening up to reveal the main Officer's Lounge. With most of the crew gone, he could only see a handful of people near the bar. He took no more than four steps before someone from behind slapped his back.
"Welcome back, laddie!" Paladin said, laughing. Blair couldn't help getting caught up in the emotion since he hadn't seen Paladin while he helped in hammering out the peace treaty. The big Scotsman asked, "Where's that lady friend of yours?"
"She didn't feel too comfortable being up here, so she decided to hang back and wait for me."
"Too bad," Taggart said. "I brought something just for this occasion." He then led Blair towards the bar where a few people were awaiting him. Captain Eisen was there, of course, as well as…
"Vagabond!" Blair exclaimed as he caught sight of the Chinese fighter pilot shuffling his perpetual deck of cards.
"Good to see you again, Colonel," Winston Chang said with a smile.
"Same here," Blair said with a shake of his head. "I honestly thought we lost you over Kilrah."
"Well, those Kilrathi fighters just got too close to comfort, so I had to do something. I was only able to eject at the last moment." Vagabond's face clouded. "I actually got picked up by a Kilrathi cruiser. They…'questioned' me right up until you dropped the T-Bomb. I couldn't see it, of course, but I definitely felt it from inside the cell they had me in. They almost took me out right then and there if that Melek hadn't ordered all ships to stand down. I was only just released with the last round of prisoners. I got debriefed by General Taggart and here I am."
Blair nodded somberly but brightened when Captain Eisen came forth to warmly shake his hand.
"Welcome back, Colonel," the tall, black man said. "I knew if there was anyone who could drop that bomb, it'd be you."
"I'm just glad to be back, sir. Although…" Blair looked down. "Not all of us made it back. You might know this already, but I saw Flint's fighter get cut down by Thrakhath before I could drop the bomb."
Eisen shook his head. "I had hopes you could all make it back, but…she was good a fighter pilot. It's just too bad there's no one in her family still alive, especially after Locanda Four."
No one could say anything after that. Locanda Four was a planet in which the Kilrathi had used bioweapons to destroy the entire ecosystem. This act was what finally precipitated the use of the Temblor Bomb. It was also the home planet of Lt. Robin 'Flint' Peters.
While everyone kept a respectful silence Paladin took out a very old looking glass bottle from a case and started pouring into several glasses.
"I'd been holding on to this for a special occasion," he said, passing the glasses out. "Since we're all here for quite possibly the last time, I thought that there could be no better occasion than this."
Blair looked at the dark, amber liquid in his glass. "You know, speaking of people missing, there's someone else who's not here. And as much as he was a pain in my ass, I'm still going to miss – "
"Aw, no!" someone yelled from the far side of the room. "No way in hell you're getting rid of me that easily, Colonel!"
Blair nearly dropped his glass of scotch as Major Todd 'Maniac' Marshall staggered out of the elevator and headed towards the group near the bar. A large cast covered most of his left leg and a cane was used in walking.
"Maniac…how the hell did you survive? You were right above the planet's surface when you ejected," Blair said.
Marshall grabbed one of the glasses filled with scotch and grimaced a little at the scent. "Well, the shockwave sent my ejection pod almost out of the system. I was picked up by a Kilrathi privateer soon after Kilrah got nuked. He didn't know quite what to do with me, and even thought I was the one responsible the bombing of the planet." He frowned and rolled his eyes. "You don't know what it took me to say I only helped in it."
"Helped?" Blair repeated. "If it hadn't been for your softening up Thrakhath's fighter, I wouldn't have been able to take him out."
"I did what I could," Maniac said with a shrug. His face then darkened. "I only wish I could've been a little quicker to save Flint."
Blair couldn't say anything to that. He could still see Flint's Excalibur disintegrate while Prince Thrakhath taunted him. Only Maniac's near-suicidal run at the Prince's fighter before he himself was shot down gave Blair a shot at using the T-Bomb. Thought it still hurt no less, he was somewhat glad he'd decided to try something with Rachel rather than with Robin. Would he even be here if he'd gone with Flint and seen her die? He shivered, slightly grateful he didn't need to really contemplate that. Still, Flint was a friend and a good combat pilot to be remembered. Blair raised his glass.
"To fallen comrades," he said quietly.
Paladin nodded. "Aye. I've known and seen so many good people come and go, it's almost a blur. But a few stand out: Colonel Halcyon, Gwen Larson…Ian 'Hunter' St. John." He blinked a few times and coughed.
"They were the reason I wanted to lay down some roots on the Victory," Vagabond said in salute. "The only family I had: Vaquero, Cobra, Flash, Beast and Flint."
Blair said, "To some of the first people I had the honor of serving with and who aren't with us today: Spirit, Bossman, Knight, Iceman…Angel."
Maniac looked to say something, considered, and then quietly said: "To Rosey."
Blair's eyes widened slightly but he held his tongue. He hadn't heard that name since he and Marshall had first served on the Tiger's Claw soon after graduating from the Academy. Although her name never came up, Maniac must still carry some guilt for Rosey's accident.
"Comrades all," Eisen quietly said and took a sip from his glass.
"The end of an era," Vagabond said. "So, Colonel, where are you off to from here? I know you've been avoiding the spotlight and all."
"I really don't need every media hound from here to Alpha Centauri interviewing me," Blair said. "Although officially I'm still in the reserves, I'm through with fighting. Depending on what Rachel wants, I might even settle down and start a farm."
Maniac winced and snorted. "A farm, you? Please. I think you've got flying too much in your blood. As for me? Like I once told Flint: Any chance I get, I'm out there" – he gestured towards outer space – "They're definitely going to have to pry my carcass from the seat when I go."
"I'm thinking of re-upping, myself," Vagabond said. "What about you, Captain?"
Eisen shrugged. "I've been in the armed forces for too many years now to just stop. Besides, being the captain of the ship that helped end the war does come with some perks. And at least the Victory still goes on as a museum and not to some scrap yard."
"As much as this might surprise a few people," Paladin started, "but I've been thinking of going into politics. The Confederation Senate needs someone to remind them not to quickly forget all those gave all they had for the war."
Everyone nodded. Already, rumors were floating that many reductions in forces were just waiting to happen. The social and economic unrest that were sure to follow would make the next few years very interesting, indeed.
"What about Tolwyn?" Maniac asked.
Paladin looked thoughtful. "Although he was cleared of any wrongdoing from the whole Behemoth incident, he's keeping a low profile for now. I only wonder how many other 'pet projects' the Admiral had going before the end of the war. No, I think we haven't heard the last of him."
Blair finished his drink and placed the glass down. "Well, I guess all I can say is good luck to all of you. It's been an honor serving and fighting alongside all of you." He shook everyone's hand and with a final salute, he headed off. Several minutes passed before the remaining four looked out and watched the shuttle carrying Blair head out and arc towards Earth.
Maniac hobbled over next to Paladin, who stared out past the viewport.
"What do you think? You really think he's done with it all?" the major asked.
Taggart didn't say anything for a few moments, but simply watched the shuttle disappear into the atmosphere.
"I've known Blair since he was a wet behind the ears lieutenant. I've flown and fought beside him so many times I've lost count. No, Marshall, I don't think he's quite done with flying. In fact…" He paused, his eyes twinkling.
"Something tells me that destiny isn't quite done yet with Colonel Christopher Blair."