ESCAPE VELOCITY

Prologue

The new age of peace and prosperity was a failure.

The discoveries that made faster-than-light travel possible brought us untold riches and unknown dangers.

The alien warships appeared without warning and decimated most of the colony worlds within hours. There was no stopping the alien menace.

The Great War was upon us.

But we beat them. The human race banded together into a powerful Confederation of Worlds, whose combined military was enough to turn the tide of the War.

Within eight years, the enigmatic alien marauders were extinct.

But the elite and powerful members of the Confederation were reluctant to give up their power after the end of the War, and began a rule of oppression and tyranny, aided by the powerful Confederation Navy.

They exploited the outer colony planets for the benefit of the wealthy Core worlds, stripping them of their resources and coercing the colonists into forced labor. This reign lasted for fifteen years; then the insurrection began.

The outer colonies, weary of the Confederation's practices of exploiting their land and denying them any representation in the Senate, formed an organized rebellion aimed at destroying their oppressors.

In time, their pitiful forces grew, with the aid of sympathetic corporations, into a formidable navy.

The Galactic Civil War still rages on and no end is in sight.

ESCAPE VELOCITY

Chapter One

Beginnings

I grew up as a small boy on Earth, in the Sol system. When most of my friends and I turned thirteen, we were whisked away to Stardock Alpha. There we were trained to be Confederate soldiers or pilots. I was a pilot, as were all but a few of my friends. There we also learned that the Confederation was an alliance of Core worlds, trying to defend themselves from the 'treacherous' Rebellion. But I had my grandfather, a veteran of the Great War, teach me all he knew of what happened during and after the Great War. We were a Rebel family living in a Confederate realm. One slip and our whole family would be eradicated.

Four years of Stardock Alpha, allowed contact with my family only once a year on my birthday, learning to pilot patrol ships and gunboats, was heck. I was close to going insane. My friends had left me earlier last year, because I was offered a chance to become a member of the Capella defense fleet. I declined, and suggested my friends. They jumped at the chance and left for Capella on the soonest flight out of the system.

A few days after my eighteenth birthday, I was confronted with a dilemma. Well, sort of, anyway. My commander was a greedy man. He would select certain pilots to do a real-flight ejection from our craft, ditching it in the ocean where clean-up crews would collect it. But my commander had a different idea on the situation.

It was generally the same plan, but there was one slight difference. Recovery teams would not come pick it up. My commander would have his own personal team pull it out of the ocean. Then he would sell the fighter on the black market for his personal gain.

When he came to me with this idea, I agreed. But when it was time for the actual run, instead of ejecting, I pulled up on the flight stick and broadcasted the commander's intent over Confederation military channels until I was certain someone had heard it, and that the commander would try to escape to his personal patrol ship.

"Commander, take to the air and I will blow your craft out of the air, sir." I said into the com unit our squadron used. He still ran over to his craft and jumped into the cockpit. I switched my weapons over to missiles, waiting for a lock. I had his ship right in my sights, waiting for a long ring, indicating a lock. It never came.

I heard a beep and pulled the trigger, startled. My missile ports opened up, and the red flare that signified a missile launch came from them. There were, however, no missiles following the flare. I looked over at my display board. There were no missiles inside my launch tubes, nor were my proton bolt cannons fully charged.

"I took the liberty of making sure you were in the slower, less harmful craft. If you're looking for your missiles, they're making a fine addition to my arsenal, and your PBC's laser energy is helping my ship's speed and shields greatly." My commander taunted me.

"You won't make it to light speed. There are two frigates and a cruiser in orbit, I don't think you're getting anywhere soon. They'll stop you." I reminded him.

"The Gallant, Requiem, and the Redemption are locked in at Luna, getting their weapons re-outfitted. They're in no position to stop me."

"Maybe, but that's not the Gallant you're coming up on." I checked my sensors, trying to quell the fear building in my stomach. "That's the Courage -- you know, the prototype cruiser? And if the rumors following it are true" Three Confederate Cruisers and six Frigates jumped into system. "Then there's the Valiant, the Pulsar, the Marauder, the Imperial, the Empress Diadem, the Desecrator, the Devastator, the Enterprise, and the Corusca Gem. You think you can get past them?"

"I don't need to. Attention Courage, there is a Rebel-controlled gunboat chasing me, and I would appreciate you getting him off my tail." Explosions were suddenly all around me. I saw my commander pausing in the middle of the Courage's bay-launched fleet of patrol ships and gunboats. I armed my rocket launcher, finally happy that at least one thing was going well today. I had a full payload of rockets to launch. I only had one chance to finish my mission.

Launching every rocket I had, I made one last com signal to the Courage.

"Courage, this is gunboat CGB-905, if you took the time to look at your Identify Friend/Foe frequency, you'd notice the patrol ship I'm shooting at is CPS-109, registered to a criminal-ah!" One final explosion rocked my ship. Glancing at the display boards, they confirmed what I had originally guessed. I was disabled.

Courage pulled up alongside me. I can't tell when it was that they reached my cockpit, but I do remember having a blue bolt of electricity mixed with light shooting towards me before I blacked out.

Chapter Two

Revelations

When I woke up, There was a loud humming, like the sound a large engine makes while going through hyperspace. I was in a room with barred windows and doors. Rushing to the door of my cell, I yelled at the guards.

"Hey! Where am I?" One of the guards snickered at me.

"You're on a prison barge, stupid."

"I noticed that. Why?" They looked stupidly at me.

"You don't remember? You, the youngest rebel spy that infiltrated Stardock Alpha? Stole a gunboat and chased a commander to the fringe of the system? You don't remember?"

"I didn't do that! I can explain everything! I was never rebel! My commander stole his patrol ship! I'm innocent!"

"Oops, too late, we're coming up into the Levo system. You're going to be living as a Confederate outlaw. We've returned the shuttlecraft your family owned that you took as transport to Stardock Alpha. It should probably be waiting for you when you land. I suggest you don't leave Levo until we leave the system. When you do, stay away from Confederate space." Knowing that it was futile arguing further, I sat back against the wall, wondering what would become of me and all my friends.

Two hours later, we landed on Levo. I walked over to where my shuttle was berthed. I entered the cockpit and waited until my sensor registered the Confederate ships leaving orbit.

Leaving Levo in my back sensors, I jumped into the Kathoon system. As soon as I entered, I jumped into the Yemuro system. Then to the Tavin system. And finally to Persephone, where I landed on the backwater planet of Rupert. I went to the bank and withdrew some of my family's money. I had a technician refuel my ship before taking off again. I jumped into the Satori system and landed on Palshlife, the Rebel HQ.

I'm a rebel, am I?

I smiled to myself. Just because a cat is cornered, it doesn't mean it's defeated.

Chapter Three

Discoveries

I walked over to the shipyard, interested in buying the Kestrel. But I came back to my shuttlecraft empty-handed. It was 1.43 million credits! I was interested in it, but not its price. Looks like I was stuck with the Starseeker, our faithful shuttlecraft. The only thing I could yet afford was a defender, which I was not interested in buying in the slightest. It had no armor, and almost two blows with any weapon would destroy it. Not my type of ship.

I walked into the spaceport bar, wondering if there were any jobs in there. I saw a man in a red uniform standing on a table and asking for any able-shipped pilots who were interested in doing a few missions. I walked over to him.

"You need a good pilot? I need a well-paying job. I think we could work out a win-win proposition for the both of us. What do you need done?"

"Thank you, kind sir. We need someone to pick up some documents from the NGC-1027 system."

"Isn't that ruled by pirates?" I asked in an inquisitive voice.

"Yes, but we'll properly equip you to get past them." We started walking towards my ship.

"This is your ship?" He asked me, amusement obvious on his rotund face.

"Something wrong with it?"

"Well here's two million. Go buy yourself a Kestrel and outfit it. What the heck is a merchant doing in a shuttlecraft?"

"I had a gunboat."

"Ah, and I guess the Confederation pulled you off of it because they thought it was stolen?"

"Something like that." I replied, looking towards the shipyards. "I'll be back in a sec."

After I had bought the Kestrel, I sent my shuttlecraft back to my family. I headed over to the outfitter's. I sold my Lightning bay and Lightning star fighters, which got me about an extra 3 million credits. I bought another Ramscoop, an Afterburner, an auto-refueler, and three proton turrets, along with five proton bolt cannons. Then I bought some upgrades to my ship's engines, allowing me a faster turn rate, better acceleration, and a higher maximum speed.

"Your ship needs a name," the man said. "How about the Striker?"

"No," I said, "I'll call it the Lonely Death."

"Right, I don't know how you got that name, but I guess it's okay. Now, remember, when you get to Antigra, there'll be a woman waiting for you. She'll give you some documents. Bring them back here safely and we'll pay you 5 million credits."

"Five million for a bunch of documents? You're either nuts, or those documents are more valuable than you're telling me. Either way, this is going to be a piece of cake."

"If you say so, mister," The man said, shaking his head. "If you say so."

Chapter Four

Missions

Taking off from Palshlife, I was assaulted by beeps from my sensor grid. Hostiles all over the system! Proton bolt cannons blazing, I flew through the pirate formation, destroying Clippers, Scoutships, and Defenders like a hot knife through butter. It was the corvettes I had to be careful of, due to their seemingly endless supply of missiles.

I managed to make it to the edge of the system, where I promptly jumped to hyperspace. Entering real-space, I noticed that the system was nearly empty. Pondering this over as I got ready for the next jump, I didn't notice my sensors flare up, usually the symbol of light speed entries into the system. Just before the stars melted into white lines, ten ships jumped into system on top of me, cutting off my escape route. But it was too late.

My ship launched itself forward, slicing the Corvette, their leader most likely, in half and smashing the rig to the edge of the system, bringing space junk into the Tavin system with me. When I reverted to real space, it careened forward, burning up in the planet's atmosphere. I jumped to the Yemuro system. Then to Kathoon. And finally to Spica, the last planet before NGC-1027. A micrometeorite lodged itself my engines when I reverted to real space, forcing me to land on Spica. The repair technicians told me it would take them a day to fix it, so I wandered around the spaceport wherever my feet took me. I found myself in a crowded spaceport bar. Standing on a table were two people I knew, Zak, a friend of mine from Stardock Alpha, and the same man who told me about this job.

"There he is!" The man yelled, upon seeing me enter. "How is it going, Elite?"

"Great, I think. What are you doing here Zak?" I asked him.

"What, can't an old friend and bunkmate of the most famous starfighter pilot around talk to him? It's been too long, Elite." He said, indicating towards the nearest empty booth. All three of us sat down in it and talked about my adventures.

"Right after you were decommissioned and sent to Levo, the Confederates filed a formal investigation along with that message you sent to the Courage. They caught old Monkey-face in the act, right after you landed on Levo.

If you were still a Confed, they would have given you the command of the Hero; you remember that old frigate? They just updated it with the newest-wave weapons technology. They're out searching for you.

Plus, you took out the Errant Venture, one of the most famous Corvette pirates. Now, we know you can only choose one side in this war, and we won't hold it against you. If you decide to go to the Confeds, stand up now and head to your fighter and go to Luna, where you'll be given the Hero to command. If you decide to stay with the Rebels, just stay here for a while." Zak said, obviously hoping that I would choose the latter decision.

I stood up, noticing the looks of surprise on their faces.

"I'm not joining the Confeds. I need to go check on my ship. If you're coming with me, we leave tomorrow at 0800 hours on the mark for Antigra in the NGC-1027 system." I strode off, leaving them there with the surprise and shock still evident on their faces.

Zak caught up with me at the outfitter's shop, still surprised at me.

"Man, you don't know how glad I am that you decided to stay with the rebellion, even after being offered a frigate!" He exclaimed. I smiled, looking over at the shop owner's stock.

"Four shield capacitors and a shield booster too, please. Oh, and a Tritarium armor. Also, a Durasteel armor and an Armiplast armor also." I said to the man.

"If they're offering me a frigate, then they must be really desperate to have me back. Something else is up. Why else would they want me?" I asked Zak, after ducking into an alley so no one would hear us.

"Well, to tell the truth, it's not you they want. It's the information on those discs. If you tried to barter they might offer a cruiser. Or they just might disable your ship and forcibly take the data."

"What's so interesting about the data?" I questioned.

"Well, I shouldn't really tell you, but since you'd find out about it later and hate me for not telling you, all right. It's the plans for a prototype cruiser like the Courage, only stronger and Rebellion-controlled."

"Your preparing for a mass battle, aren't you? The Rebellion is going to take on the Confederates in an all-out battle for supreme control."

"Pretty much, and it would be useful to have a small fleet of the little buggers running around for us, not against us." He admitted, staring straight at me. Or, rather, past me, towards the sky

I looked up. Confederate Cruisers were everywhere, and they had pre-deployed their Patrol Ships before they launched into system.

"Oh, this is not good. Not good at all." I hit the back of his head.

"Thank you, Captain Obvious. Come on, we'd best get to my ship. They should have finished getting that micrometeorite out of my engines and adding the outfits on." We rushed to my ship, managing to blast off before the space where my ship had been was turned into ashes and dust as laser fire devastated the spaceport. We stayed in terrain-following mode until we were well clear of the spaceport and the orbital bombardment.

We finally blasted off into space when we were alerted that the last of the cruisers were escaping into hyperspace. But as luck had it, there was one last gunboat that had not entered hyperspace. Apparently another micrometeorite had gotten this craft too. It still had weapons, though, and turned to shoot at me. Flying by, I shot at it with my PBC's until it was disabled.

I swung up alongside it and told Zak to stay in the cockpit and alert me to any incoming ships. I strode to the airlock and waited for it to open. When it finally did, I boarded the gunboat and pulled out my pistol, switching it over to stun. When I got to the cockpit, however, I saw that I had no need for the gun. The pilot had been knocked unconscious.

I carried the pilot to the sick bay on my ship, where I took off the pilot's helmet. It was a girl, as I should have known by the bunch of hair that had shown from the bottom of her helmet. She looked oddly familiar, but I couldn't place her face until Zak walked in and swore.

"Savas, Elite, it's Jessie!" Jessie was Zak and mine's only friend that was a girl. I had liked her a little bit when we were younger and played soccer together on Earth, but five years on Stardock Alpha, one being a soldier, four becoming a pilot, drove most emotions from me.

"It can't be! I thought she left to become a member of Capella's stellar defense!"

"She did, I guess she got transferred." It was then that she started to wake up.

"Ugh, my head. Where am I?"

"It's been a while, hasn't it Jessie?" I said, putting my pilot's helmet back on.

"Wha? Am I dead? Cause I thought only the dead can see the dead!"

"What are you talking about?" Zak questioned, his helmet off.

"That helmet," she said, pointing at me, "belongs to a dead man we all once knew. And they said you were killed in battle, Zak."

"I defected. You're lucky we didn't decide to blow you up after you fired. You came after us like it was us or the known universe."

"Well, it was the name of the ship" she responded, looking at me strangely

"What's wrong with the Lonely Death, Jessie?" I asked, ending my silence.

"My friend, Elite, used that name with his gunboat, before he was shipped off to Levo."

"Is that all?" I inquired, noticing amusement all over Zak's face.

"What do you mean, is that all? I really liked him, okay?" I pulled off my helmet.

"Boo." I said, looking into her eyes.

"Elite!" she jumped up, ran over and gave me a big hug.

"So, what's wrong with the name?" Zak, asked, obviously jealous at the attention I was getting.

"Well, nothing now, but there was that part about not telling me Elite was commanding the ship. I thought you guys were pirates wanting to sell my gunboat on the black market and keep me around for other things." I nodded, then left the room to get ready for the hyperspace jump to NGC-1027.

It was two long jumps later when we arrived at Antigra. I left the others onboard to go find our contact. She was waiting for me at the spaceport bar. After putting the plans in my pocket, she hissed at me to keep them safe, while that to others it would look like she was pickpocketing me.

I ran back to my ship, eager to take off, when I saw some large Confederate ships in orbit. In fact, one looked especially like the Courage, the prototype Interstellar-class cruiser. Sprinting to the cockpit, I urged our engines as fast as they could go, before turning upwards and blasting out of the atmosphere.

The orbital bombardment began almost immediately. The pirate colony didn't stand a chance. The planet's defense fleet was eradicated in moments. Then the Courage jumped to light speed, and the rest of Confederate fleet followed. I waited two hours again, then burst up over the moon where I had hidden. No left-behind ships were still in the system this time.

Chapter Five

Results

I took the quickest way I knew back to Satori. Back there, I saw the man again. This time he fully introduced himself.

"I am Admiral David Sykes of the Rebellion. We thank you for bringing this information to us. Give us time to analyze this data. Meet us here in an hour if you wish to continue with the Rebellion."

It was one long, boring hour. Zak was reviewing the Lonely Death's systems, including weaponry and communication. Jessie was up in the cockpit helping him. I was below deck, in the 'fresher, taking a shower and wondering what would happen to my family when my com rang.

"Elite, it's Zak. Admiral, uh, Sikes, no, wait, Sykes, wants to see you. He's in the spaceport bar now." Pulling on my jacket, I left the ship and walked over to the bar. I saw him immediately. He waved me over and began to talk as I was sitting down.

"It's good to see you, Elite. I thought you might abandon us. We have some tough missions ahead, and we need you to fly them. First, we need you to drop off a specialists team on Luna. You might be told to stay still while they scan you, but don't. To make sure they don't scan you and your cargo, our technicians have installed a prototype cloaking device aboard your ship. Now, don't be too glad about this. It cuts out your shields, won't allow you to fire weapons, and slowly saps fuel from your engines."

"That won't be a problem. Just jump out as soon as I enter a system and only land when I need to refuel. Should be easy."

"That's what you said last time," Admiral Sykes said, "You remember, when the Errant Venture showed up."

"I beat it."

"No, you just slammed into it and tore it in half."

"Same same. It's gone now, isn't it?"

"Never mind. The specialists are already aboard your ship, waiting for you to launch."

"What do I do after I drop them off?"

"Go to Earth, pick up your families, take them to the Levo system to avoid Confederates, then come back and pick the specialists up off of Mars."

"Then what?" I questioned further.

"Take them back here to Satori, and then, if circumstances so dictate, lead a Rebellion warfleet to Earth to destroy the Confederacy."

"And if we fail?"

"In times like this, we can't afford a failure. Win, or all other planets will be doomed to suffer as we have. There is no failure now."

Chapter Six

Reaping What You Have Sown

The mission had started out great. Not a Fed' in the sky. We jumped the long way to Sol, trying to throw off any pursuit. It was wasted fuel, however. There wasn't a single Confederate ship along the way; they had probably all amassed somewhere.

I was in the Tau Ceti system, getting ready to jump, when I saw a faint sensor blip at the edge of the system, usually a sign that a ship was destroyed and it had launched escape pods, or a ship had left a message beacon or other large object in system before jumping out, or that a ship had just very recently jumped out of system. The blip disappeared, which confirmed it. A ship, pretty large from the size of the blip, had launched into the Sol system just now, before we entered Tau Ceti.

I launched into the Sol system, hand poised over the cloaking device activator. Nothing. Only the usual bulk freighters and light freighters that were normally seen in an active trading system like this one.

Landing on Luna, I waited for the specialists to leave. As soon as they did, I blasted off again, landing on Earth. I quickly located all our family and friends and loaded some on the Lonely Death, while others traveled in the Starseeker. We blasted off to Levo, speed more my main concern than fuel. I quickly dropped the families off at Levo, and instructed them to go to Satori. Then I left for Mars, also in the Sol system. Landing there, I saw the specialists in a firefight outside the spaceport bar. Arming my Proton Bolt Cannons, I shot at the people the specialists were shooting at and lowered the ramp.

The specialists were not slow in running up it and yelling for me to go. I blasted off Mars and set up the jump to hyperspace. It was five long days of healing the specialists that had been injured. Finally we made it to Satori, and once again we were made to wait while the Rebel technicians examined the data.

Two long hours later, I was meeting up with Admiral Sykes in the bar.

"It's official. The Confederation is gathering up their fleets into one gigantic one with that prototype Interstellar-class cruiser, the Courage, at its head. The Rebellion has taken advantage of this and has stolen all the Confederate systems but Sol back from the Confederation. We need you to lead a task force to Sol, in hopes of defeating this enemy."

"One taskforce won't be enough! The Confederates have at least 20 of their own, and that cruiser is worth about three forces! It's impossible!"

"It's the best we can do. Your friends have already agreed to this, and are ready to ship off to Sol as soon as you are. So, Elite, we ask you to help us one final time." I never stood a chance. If my friends had already agreed, then what was the point in not agreeing? Besides, the Lonely Death couldn't function without me.

Chapter 7

The Reapers Have Come To Collect

We headed out. Zak, Jessie, me, and Task Force 18. Nowhere near enough ships, but we had to make do. We paused at the Centauri system, one jump away from Sol. We recorded messages for our loved ones before leaving Centauri in the dust, probably for the last time.

"All ships, this is the Lonely Death. Arm weapons, come to a heading of 409.45 and transmit status, Mantas first, then Cruisers, then Destroyers. Over"

"Red Manta squadron, standing by."

"Blue Manta squadron, standing by."

"Orange Manta squadron, standing by."

"Black Manta squadron, standing by." The Mantas were the Rebellion's version of the patrol ships, but faster and less heavily armed. The Black Mantas were an elite squadron of Mantas.

"Cruisers, report."

"Galaxy standing by."

"Discoverer standing by."

"New Wave Bossa Nova standing by."

"Collateral Damage standing by."

"Final Decision standing by."

"Destroyers? You want a say in this?"

"Phoenix standing by."

"Darling standing by."

"Confusion standing by."

"Satori Star standing by."

"Rebel Core standing by."

"Genuine standing by."

"Exile standing by."

"General standing by."

"Iomega standing by."

"Spica Star standing by."

"All craft, form up on me," I said, taking up a position near the system's edge. "We're going in."

One hour of terrible anxiety as our ships tore through space, the stars becoming nothing but white streaks on either side of the cockpit.

One hour that went by too quickly for it to be relished as the last anyone would see in a while.

The stars returned to normal and our ship's shields buckled as they collided with an object that did not have its shields up fast enough for it to stop us. We burst through the newly made hole in the side of the Courage, weapons shooting at anything ahead that moved. I saw a rebel destroyer, the Confusion, turn into molten pieces of metal as it was preyed upon by three cruisers, which soon were caught by the Courage, the impact of my shields smashing it forward towards Earth.

The Courage soon found itself smashing into Stardock Alpha, eradicating any signs of life that may have been there, while it floated on, picking up speed from Earth's atmosphere, being dragged down until it crashed, going at a speed too fast for human comprehension, seeing as it had been hit right out of hyperspace. Its battered carcass had one final act of will before it was totally destroyed.

It drilled itself right into Earth's core, then fired off its engines and propelled itself and over a billion human beings forward into the sun, a fiery grave for the prototype and planet Earth. But as soon as the Prototype hit the sun, it's heat resistant panels also allowed it to enter the sun, causing something no one alive has been able to see.

A supernova of a system's sun, which would wipe out each and every little thing in the system.

"Code Red, Code Red! All ships jump to hyperspace, now, now, now! The sun is going supernova! I repeat the sun is going supernova! All ships retreat to hyperspace and meet up at Capella! Go now!" I yelled, entering the coordinates for Zebetrious into my Navigation computer. The Confederates weren't even trying to jump to hyperspace. In fact, they were massing over by Luna, where there was no chance they could get to hyperspace. The sun began to turn red; bubbling and rolling with fire like a boiling pan of water.

I pushed down hard on the hyperspace button. The button wouldn't work! I checked my fuel gauge. Not enough fuel for a hyperspace jump! I checked my ramscoop. I almost had enough fuel! If only I could

The sun exploded.

The End