The hangar door of the ANS Reliant slides open and I use the Coyote's top thrusters to maneuver it into the Big Black below.
"Alpha wing," says Reliant's commander, captain Foster, "you are clear to the Bremen. Good luck."
Luck? I snort.
In the merciless confines of space, luck can mean the difference between coming home with your body intact, or being reduced to ashes and shot out into the infinite beyond in an unmarked canister.
We don't need luck. Luck's a fools game (Smart-targeting system: [ON] OFF). Wish us skill, captain Foster, and lots of it.
Mike Horrigan, call-sign "Moose", is on the comm. "So we get to meet the great Klaus Steiner," a sort of mock-bravado seeps into his voice as the number "45" asserts itself on the crown of his flight helmet. "You think he's as good as everyone says?"
I target-lock the fighter in front of me and manually engage rear thrusters. Then order several thousand earth-tonnes of hardware to match its speed. It's almost too easy.
Brad "career military man" Callan, call-sign "Viper", keeps his reason without responding in the absolute, "I guess we'll find out."
"Ok 45th," he orders, "let's move out!"
Moose gives the go-ahead to jump and, in a instant of Planck time, my gastrointestinal system grinds to a halt. Three missions since I signed up for the 45th volunteer squadron. Three missions, and I still can't stomach the idea of slinging myself across the galaxy. An old saying about traveling through hyperspace resonates in my brain housing group — the source of which has since become myth:
"Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy. Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova, and that'll end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?"
Yes. Yes it would.
I flex my fingers between two too many a hard swallow and prep my jump drive for manual activation.
"Jump system: Online!"
Then I close my eyes, pray to the stars, and jump…
(Beyond a thin layer of movable tissue, consisting primarily of skin and muscle, stars smear across space-time like raindrops on the windshield of a plasma-powered hoverbike. I lose my breath to Void.)
…and the Coyote's hyperdrive whines down to a low hum as we enter the cluttered space of the ANS Bremen. Viper reports in, the viper insignia on his flight helmet flaring gold, bouncing solrays every which way.
"Breman control, this is the 45th reporting for duty."
"Dis ist Breman contdrol," replies a fireheaded bridge officer. The accent is strong with this one. "Kommander shdeiner und his wingman are prepping fur lonch und will be wiv you shordly."
"Copy that Breman Control, standing by."
We relax formation, soaring under the Breman's massive hull like a convocation of quasi-oriented falcons. Parsecs away, a gas giant hovers between stars; a grayish-blue jewel shrouded in an endless sea of black, black, and more black. I search the ITAC database for a rundown on the planet and, although I'd never admit it to the Alliance, this, my friends, is what I signed up for.
Moose breaks my romantic space reverie with, "Hey, is that a Wolverine he's flying?" Two Wolverines emerge from Breman's hangar. "They're meant to be state of the art," he says to the inside of a cockpit."I guess rank has its privileges."
No shit. I'm beginning to think our boy Moose just likes to hear himself over the comms link. I target-lock the veteran wing-leader and engage the Coyote's rear thrusters.
"Okay 45ths!" Something tells me Steiner, call-sign "Wolf", is gearing up for a jump. I tail his Wolverine and prep my system for the ride. "There isn't a Coalition force within three sectors of here. We should have an easy ride."
Easy ride. I like the sound of that.
"Let's move out!"
"Okay 45th, you heard the man!" Viper's all business, as usual. Then Moose gives the signal and we're Out through the In door.
We break into known space to find an Alliance cargo carrier being lit up by a murder of coalition meatbags. I Keep Calm and Lock On.
"Alliance patrol," it's the Voice of Panic, "this is Breaker Charlie 19. We're under attack. We need assistance immediately."
Done and done.
Wolf gives the order to engage and Moose can barely contain himself.
"Let's do it!"