Chapter 1: Lawless

Sean O'Donnell awoke groggily to the noise of alarms screeching and yellow lights flashing. At first he was confused and disoriented as he rose to a sitting position on his bunk. He swung his legs out of his warm bed and planted them firmly on the steel deck. As he looked around his quarters he saw his bunkmate and wingman, Kirst Hollman, in roughly the same condition; only he was already out of his bunk and frantically putting on his flight suit. Sean looked at him with a puzzled look on his face.

"What's going on?" asked Sean.

"Don't you hear the announcements? We're under attack!" replied Kirst.

"By who?" Sean asked.

"The Xenos. They brought an entire gunship and three whole wings of fighters! Now hurry up and get your ass out of bed! We launch in ten minutes!" Kirst yelled to be heard over the wailing alarms.

Sean hauled himself out of his bunk with an eager anticipation because of the huge battle to come. He rushed over to his flight suit and rushed to put it on. Once he finally got it on and checked, he and Kirst rushed out into the hall at a full sprint. At that moment, a huge explosion rocked the huge asteroid that was their home and base. The lights flickered and dust fell from the natural rock ceiling only a meter from their heads. The artificial gravity generators surged and gave out from the sudden power fluctuation and everyone in the hallway suddenly began to float in the air.

Still needing to get to their ships, Kirst and Sean firmly pushed off of the walls and continued on to Shadow Squadron's hanger. They emerged only moments later into the large cavern that served as their hanger. He and Kirst pushed off the ground beneath them toward their waiting ships. Sean reached his Dagger with a thud and punched in his personal code in the pad right below the canopy. As soon as the canopy opened with a hiss Sean clamored into the pilot's seat and strapped himself in. He paused for a moment as another explosion rocked the base. He looked over to his right and saw Kirst hurrying through his preflight checklist.

Sean snapped back into reality and began checking his systems. He began by activating the Dagger's modified generator. As his hands danced over the controls the generator hummed to life. Next he brought up his life support systems and activated his main computer. Lastly he typed in his engine startup code and the single oversized engine roared to life.

Next Sean activated his comm gear and checked in. There was a buzz of activity going on, damage reports, squadrons checking in, and battle tactics from those few squadrons that had already deployed and were engaging in the fight. Sean flipped the switch over to his squadron's channel. Everyone was reporting all systems green.

"This is Shadow nine, all systems in the green." Sean reported.

"Shadow ten reports a minor generator fluke; I'm only at 98% total power. Wait, I got it. All systems green." Kirst said with satisfaction in his voice.

"Roger that Shadow squadron, Buffalo Control, this is Shadow One, requesting launch permission."

"This is Buffalo TacCom, you're clear Shadow Leader. Kick some Xeno ass out there."

"Roger TacCom, Shadow lead out."

With that Shadow one rose off the deck and began maneuvering out to the airlock. The rest of Shadow squadron expertly followed his lead and emerged out of Buffalo's airlock doors into the poor visibility offered by the Badlands.

Sean and Kirst formed up with the rest of Shadow squadron as Sean began to power up his combat systems. He went through a checklist as he brought his shield generator up and began powering up his weapons. He checked the display as the status of each of his four guns and one turret came online. Everything seemed to check out, all systems green.

"Alright Shadow group, we are the best the Liberty Rogues have to offer, and this time the Xenos have overstepped their boundaries for the last time. So stay tight, watch each other's sixes, and call for help if you need it." Shadow one said.

Sean sped at the huge furball ahead of him, and began tracking all the carnage going on in front of him. His scanners still picked up the gunship lingering just outside the hot zone, and a little more than two whole wings of Xeno fighters. And there were only two Rogue squadrons still in the fight, and they were taking heavy losses.

"Break and attack!" Shadow Leader shouted.

"Roger that, Kirst stay with me." Sean said, barely able to hide his excitement.

"Don't worry, I got your six." Kirst replied coolly.

Sean snap rolled out to port and kicked in the engines at maximum thrust. Kirst mimicked the move perfectly and pulled in tight slightly behind and to starboard of Sean. Sean targeted a Startracker and when the range clicked off to around nine hundred meters, Sean opened up with a deadly barrage from his lasers. His shots peppered the shields and began to wear them down. But Sean let off a few well placed shots with his turret and the protective barrier around the Startracker vanished with a pop. Now Sean's deadly bolts were uninhibited and went straight through to the enemy's feeble armor plating. Sean shot one more shot that gutted the Startracker all the way through the engine compartment and the craft vaporized and congealed into rapidly cooling blobs of metal.

Now Sean was in the thick of the dogfight, and with his explosive entry he began to draw some heat. Sean attracted two of his first victim's wingmen who expertly maneuvered onto Sean's tail and began to fire their red beams at Sean's aft. Sean looked over his right shoulder and became aggravated that Kirst was nowhere to be seen. Once again Kirst left him on his own to go ace some unsuspecting target of opportunity.

Fine, I don't need him. I can shake these guys no problem. Sean thought.

Sean rolled his craft to port and stomped hard on the right rudder and yanked the stick all the way to his breast bone. Pinned in his seat by his artificial gravity generator, Sean gritted his teeth in a predatory smile. The Dagger began a lopsided barrel roll combined with a corkscrew maneuver that Sean expertly controlled. This maneuver made him harder to hit and gave him time to calculate his next move.

Suddenly, Sean abruptly stopped his ship's spinning and killed the engines. He yanked the stick hard and the ship began to flip end over end until the Dagger's nose was pointing at its attackers. Carried on by the ship's forward momentum, Sean stayed out in front of his pursuers. He targeted the ship to starboard and shot straight at the ship's nose, where the shields are often weakest.

It only took Sean a few well placed shots to hull the ship, and it began to vent atmosphere at the same time it caught on fire, effectively cooking the pilot alive and rendering the ship unmanned. It sped off into the Badlands where Sean lost sight of it.

Continuing his flip until he was facing straight down from his original position, Sean reengaged his engines and sped down relative to his original plain of flight. And the remaining pursuer didn't follow him. Sean saw his chance and snap rolled his fighter into a tight loop to get right on the sole Startracker's aft. Once he got a solid target lock Sean opened fire and tore right through the puny craft's shields. Sean shot at the now exposed craft's engines and was rewarded with a fantastic shot that went right up inside the Startracker's. The doomed craft exploded into a shower of sparks and shrapnel.

Sean circled around back toward the still potent dogfight and saw Kirst had a ship on his tail. He also noticed that the enemy's shields were overloaded, so Sean maneuvered in behind his prey and tried to get a good shot. But this pilot was good, he kept making his craft jitter and shake in Sean's crosshair, making him hard to hit. Sean couldn't pull off a good shot without hitting Kirst on the other side of his enemy. So Sean thought of a quick way to smoke this guy.

Sean quick keyed his comm, "Kirst, break to starboard on my command. You've got one on your tail and he's givin' me a hell of a time." Sean ordered.

"Ok. Ready when you are." Came Kirst's reply.

"Alright. Get ready…."

Sean placed his crosshair about twenty meters to starboard of the enemy's craft.

"Break now!"

Kirst executed and elaborate snap roll to starboard and the enemy drifted right into Sean's waiting sights. He opened up with everything he had and he was rewarded with a giant fireball and a satisfying explosion afterward.

"Thanks for saving my ass Sean" Kirst said, half teasing and half meaning it.

"Anytime" Sean said with a hint of contempt in his voice.

"Attention all Rogue Ships, This is Shadow one. Focus all your attacks on that gunboat!"

Sean and Kirst looped around to get a lock on the massive ship. They closed rapidly on the ship, and its massive turrets and point defense guns opened up on their comrades in an attempt to swat them out of space. And the massive ship was rewarded with a few scores.

"Damn, there goes Renegade Four."

"Focus Damn it! We don't need to lose anymore people!" Shouted Shadow one.

Sean and Kirst began evasive maneuvers as red bolts of pure destruction went whizzing by their dancing ships. When they got into range they fired on the hulking brute of a ship. Their lasers pierced through the armor, but didn't do much serious damage.

Sean and Kirst looped away from the giant death machine and lined up for a second run. Shadow one and his wingman danced their way right to the bow of the ship and pierced the bridge's view screen. The ship vented its atmosphere explosively, sucking the crew out into the cold expanse of space. The ship began to list lazily to port, but the turrets were still blazing.

"Shadows Nine and Ten, Go for the power converter connector on the top of the ship." Shadow one ordered.

"On our way sir." Sean replied.

Sean and Kirst closed into firing range, still evading the ruby beams of destruction. At the same time, Sean and Kirst fired on the small target along the ship's dorsal structure. The connector exploded violently in a shower of sparks and concussive force that cracked the ship right down the middle. The ship's turrets sputtered and stopped firing, and the lights on board the ship flickered and died. The gunboat slit violently along the giant crack in its side and began belching fire and launching flaming bodies and equipment into space.

"Great shot Nine and Ten! Now let's mop up the rest of them." Said One with enthusiasm flooding into his voice.

With the sight of their mighty ship in flaming pieces, the Xeno ships started to flee in a desperate attempt at survival. Sean and Kirst followed them, as did the rest of Shadow squadron and the majority of the other Rogue ships. Shadow squadron scored a few more kills, but most of the Xeno ships were already out of range.

With the battle over, Sean and Kirst formed up with Shadow Leader as did the rest of the squadron.

"Shadow One to Buffalo, we need the EVA crews out here on rescue detail." Requested Shadow Leader.

"Roger Shadow One, EVA crews are on their way. Great job out there."

"Thanks Buffalo, we're comin' home." One said.

One kicked in his cruise engines and the rest of the squadron followed him in perfect formation. Sean finally let out a sigh, trying to expel the adrenaline that still pumped through his system. He removed his helmet and brushed the sweat from his brow on the sleeve of his jump suit.

As they approached Buffalo base, the squadron began docking procedures, with Shadow One being the last one to settle to the deck. Sean shut down his Dagger's systems and set his flight helmet on his seat as he emerged into the cool air of the cavern that served as Shadow squadron's hanger.

He closed his canopy on his fighter and jumped down from the latter attached to the side of his fighter. As he settled to the deck, he was met by Kirst who slapped him on the back.

"Hey let's head to the bar, I owe you a round for savin' my ass out there." Kirst said with a boyish grin adorning his face.

"Ok, sounds great to me. I get to drink for free. It might actually prove to be a good night after all. Now if we could get some decent looking girls on this rock…" Sean said while rubbing his neck.

As they went to exit the hanger, Shadow Leader, Corbin Foust, strode over to Sean.

"Hey Sean, wait up a second!" Shouted Foust.

"Hey what's up Lead?" Sean said still, grinning about the thought of women.

"You did really well out there today kid. How would you like to meet a friend of mine? He might have use for you…" Foust said with a cool smirk on his face.

"Sure. Where is he? And what does he want with me?" Sean said, generally perplexed.

"He should be here within the next few hours. His name is Edison Trent. And he's a representative of The Order in Liberty…."

To Be Continued……