Michael checked his gauges very carefully before he proceeded. He didn't need a malfunction in a dogfight with the Aliens. He'd only been here a month and had already experienced more combat with the extraterrestrials than a Fleet pilot might in half a dozen sorties.

He arrived on the scene a few minutes later. The Manhattan was in the middle of Quadrant G2, being pounded hard by Alien guns. It was fighting back with surprising ferocity, using its dual laser cannons to knock one, then another Saucer out of the sky. Rather than firing wildly at anything that moved, her gunners committed to one target, destroyed it, and moved on. It was far more efficient than the panicky, hurried, shoot-at-whatever-you-can style of many transport gunners.

And that's what Manhattan was. A transport ship. Long and flat bellied, bundled up in more inches of titanium alloy armor plates than Ellison could count, and a prime target for anything that happened along. It may have made sense to be out here should this system have really been a main shipping route for cargo vessels, but it wasn't yet, not until Michael cleared it.

"Transport Manhattan, this is Michael Ellison of the Astro-Mining Corporation, what is your current situation?" he asked hurriedly, hoping that the Aliens were listening in, and that they'd pick another target.

"Situation! Situation is extremely hostile, Mister Ellison, we are in need of assistance. Hull integrity is down to the forty percent range. You'd better pack your gear and get down here – get these buggers off of us now!" the angry feminine voice of the pilot screamed at him.

"Oh, yes ma'am," Ellison chirped mockingly back at her.

The battle was in full swing in the next ten seconds. Full thrusters and a whole lot of weaving through the rocks got Michael there in time to salvage the ship. They were trailing their cargo and there were numerous ruptures along the hull, but they appeared in good shape, otherwise.

"Here to assist. Attacking now."

He fragmented one of them as soon as he arrived, catching the Aliens off guard with a few wild salvos of gunfire. They came at him viciously, a contingent of Super Saucers and a Crystal Ice Ship. The ice ship broke off from its heavy bombardment of the transport to attack Ellison.

The ice ship lined up and fired a cold plasma bolt. Michael banked to the side, barely avoiding the shot. He couldn't let the bolts touch him; his systems would freeze and give them enough time to destroy him. Raising the shields, he rammed a Saucer with the Dagger's nose, splitting it down the middle and blowing it apart. The Manhattan laid down cover fire, blowing another Saucer away.

There were two Saucers left, plus the Crystal Ice Ship. The transport took one of the Saucers and kept firing until it was down. A plasma bolt struck the Dagger full in the face. Everything went out. Lights, engines, weapons, everything.

"Mayday! Mayday! Am in distress! This is Ellison, under attack!" he shouted into his headset, hoping something might hear him. It was doubtful. Very doubtful.

Impossible.

The Ice Ship fired again, cracking the titanium armor on his vessel. One more shot would finish the fighter off. He shivered and awaited death.

Tseeew! Tseeew!

Terran ships! There were other Terran ships in the system! A Rapier, a fighter of military construct, decloaked behind the Crystal Ice Ship and blew it apart with a well placed homing missile.

"Glad to see me, 'Mad?" a familiar voice asked as the Dagger's systems began to thaw.

"Jason! What are you doing here?" Michael yelled. "And what the hell are you doing flying a Rapier?"

Kain chuckled over the radio link-up. "I believe I'm saving your hind end from freezer burn...what are you doing responding to distress signals? And you should call me 'Sir', as well."


"It's quite simple, really. My funds were so low I could count them on my fingers. Jobs were sparse. They still are. No one needs a decent assassin anymore, Mike. I was out of work, so I turned to the only option I had left. Federal service." Kain explained. He was dressed in a blue tunic and a black beret and was aiming a blaster at Ellison.

They stood on the deck of the Poseidon, a Terran destroyer on a mission. The explanation had been too long for Michael to remember everything. It was just too hard to believe. He didn't realize he'd said it out loud until a deep, gravelly, and ever-irritating voice chimed in, slurred heavily with Downspin accent.

"Believe it, Captain Ellison. I'm 'fraid you and your friends out there on the Manhattan were our worms. They've been fishin' us too long, son, we're gonna start reelin' them in."

Harlow stepped into the fighter bay as the two were talking. "That won't be necessary, Major Kain. I'm sure your friend is as eager to get this over with as we are. He won't try anythang..." Harlow glanced pointedly at Ellison, a thick cigar clenched between his teeth, "...at least, if he values his life..."

"Right, Admiral." Kain replied, holstering the blaster.

Harlow walked down to the two old friends and pointed to a wall display. "You see, Captain, the Aliens are attracted to heat. The engines of that transport put out enough drive plasma to ignite twenty kilometers of this God-forsaken asteroid belt. And you...you, Captain, have done us a great service. We never expected Manhattan back. Not only did you save the Manhattan, but your actions have helped us greatly in the upcoming conflict –"

"Conflict? We're going to fight them?" Ellison interrupted incredulously.

"Yes, that was the plan we had in mind. War isn't a game, Captain, and –"

"Game? No, it's not a game, Harlow, but if it were you are being a fool. You've saved your queen but you're letting all your other pieces go to ruin. Soon it'll be a checkmate, Admiral. That Alien cruiser could wipe us out without a second thought. You're insane to even be in this system." Michael screamed at him.

"I assure you, I have the enemy cornered. We're ready to move, and let me tell you straight: there is enough combined firepower in this ship's fighter complement and main guns to wipe out a whole fleet of those extraterrestrials, so don't you get worried now." Harlow replied coolly. He didn't seem to be understanding his peril. Either that, or he actually expected Ellison to believe that the Poseidon could take the cruiser on, one on one, and win. Actually believed it with his heart. An ancient aphorism involving a certain oxymoron crossed Ellison's mind.

"You have to listen to me, Harlow –"

"I don't have to listen to anything I don't want to, Ellison. I'm an Admiral." Harlow turned to Kain. "Take him to his quarters."


The escape was made hastily and without regret. Ellison sped away in his heavily damaged Dagger, flying as fast and as far as he could. The Aliens were right on top of them, and he had to get away. There was no chance of survival. The cruiser could spear the Poseidon through the side and think nothing of it. In any case, it was the only vessel Ellison had ever seen absorb hundreds of, let alone one, direct asteroid hit and continue without so much as a quiver. That wasn't even taking into account the thing's weapons...

Their plan was flawed. They had made a poor sweep of the system, a poor covert move through the asteroids, and a very poor choice to use Ellison as their puppet.

"Hey... where do you think you're going, Captain?" Kain's voice came in over Michael's headset. The Rapier engaged its thrust and flew after him, gunning down rocks with ease.

"Away, Jason. Why'd you do this to me? I always thought you actually had a sense of right and wrong. Even when you were a bounty hunter. But you really don't have any morals, do you? Friends are just another expendable commodity. Just like the next military pilot..."

Kain laughed, almost mockingly. "So sad, so sad. Where's the galaxy's tiniest violin? Think, man! There aren't any paying jobs left in this Galaxy! If you were smart you would've joined up. This operation was planned to destroy most of the Aliens in one stroke. A hyperactive explosion from an Alien cruiser would throw them all out of whack. Those things carry breeders! We could smack them into submission in weeks. It'll happen. But you won't be a part of it, 'Mad – 'cause you're gonna die."

Green bolts missed Michael's ship as it hurtled precariously through a dense cluster of asteroids. He flipped the Dagger over to face Kain's Rapier and touched the thrusters to slow his momentum. Ellison's shields were recharged, so he used them extensively. It was a festival among the rocks, with he and Jason facing off, each with a deep hatred for the other.

Jason used the Rapier's twin guns and fired homing missiles like a madman, but he kept it fair and wasn't using the cloaking device his ship had onboard.

Still, he was going to win. The Rapier was superior in almost every way – armoring, shields, and it could turn on a dime. Another rupture went down the hull as Michael's shields lost their remaining power to the Rapier's guns. Kain chucked and spun his ship around for the final pass.

"You never could outclass me, 'Mad. See you around..."

Michael grinned as the Rapier closed in for the kill. "Outclass this, punk."

Ellison engaged the Armageddon. The shockwaves tore the Rapier to pieces, its hyperdrive going volatile and vaporizing several hundred meters of the surrounding asteroids. Ellison's ship was caught in the blast, tumbling end over end through space. All went dark except for the blaze of multi-colored fire just beginning to rage in the distance.


Harlow's plan failed miserably, as expected. Poseidon went up like a fireball comet. Michael repaired his ship at one of the outposts and headed away, far away. When the feds found out their slipshod ploy for xenocide had failed, they'd be on the lookout for him. Or perhaps not. They could assume that he'd been killed in the blast, but most of the time they took no chances. If anyone from civilization could find him in the next few years...well, the prospects weren't exactly bright.

He'd head for the out-lying colonies, maybe buy some land on an agro-world. Maybe do some loathesome escort duty. Maybe get into the trading market. Perhaps, one day, enact revenge.

In any case, it would be good to get back on terra firma.


AUTHOR'S NOTES

"WTF IS THIS! ALMOST 9000 WORDS ABOUT A 2D SPACESHIP SHOOTING BLOBS ON THE SCREEN WHERE DID YOU HIT UR HEAD STUPID. U MUST HAV LOTS UV TIME ON UR HANDS TO DO THAT. U PROBABLY LIVE IN A 1 ROOM APARTMENT WITH A COMPUTER AND A BED IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. IM MEAN REALLY... ASTEROIDS MY ASS" - BerserkRage's friend whom he showed FF.N to

Well, if you hadn't figured it out by now, this piece of "fanfic" is basically original fiction dolled up for the spotlight. See, in 1998-way back in the days of the dinosaurs, at the time of Festival's creation-I was living in my parents' house attending junior high school. I wasted about two days Festival-although the second day was pretty much a 6pm to midnight affair trying to meet my deadline for English class, if memory serves-and after my hard work, I figured it was probably in my best interests to promote it in a new category. Thus, the birth of the Asteroids category here on FF.N.

In retrospect, all the more level-headed criticisms pitched Festival's way ring true: indeed, some of the dialogue is iffy, and the ending, I will admit, could be classified as a "choppy bummer." Beyond a couple tiny edits for consistency, I won't be modifying Festival, but if anyone is interested in seeing where else I can take the plot line and universe started here, check out Where the Stone Falls.

Further comments or criticism are always welcome, here or directed to my email... but I don't speak French, so no more French language Simpsons fanfiction standing in for a review, if that's quite all right with you all...

ALSO: If you liked this story, please DO NOT REPRODUCE IT ELSEWHERE WITHOUT MY PERMISSION.

DO feel free to link to it here on FF.N, or refer others to it if you wish. I do not enjoy finding my work posted up on random message boards by someone I've never met simply by Googling my name. If not plagiarism, it's at least rude. Say hi first.