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In my day, I was one of the finest fighter-pilots in my tribe. Due to my age and a variety of injuries over the years, I had been recently relegated to "light duty", meaning I'd be flying Havoc transports from now on.
What started out as a long day was about to get far worse. I couldn't help but wonder what cruel and malevolent deity had it in for me. Our orders were to destroy a sensor tower in a remote location on Beta Regulon 3B... For those of you not in the know, that means the second moon of the third planet of the second star in the Regulon cluster... a place I had hoped never to return to. It's an unpleasant place, with strong winds, low visibility, and stormy all the time. A nightmare to pilots. Especially when you consider that there's enough atmospheric electrical activity to fry a dropship. And that's precisely how we were getting to the surface.
Upon landing, we deployed the vehicle pad, and prepared our strike team. I'd be piloting the transport, of course, and Thompson, my old wingman, would provide shrike escort. He was a patient man who favors medium assault armor, and was one of the few tribesmen I'd trust my life with.
As we prepared the tranport, I came to a startling realization. The whole strike-team was a bunch of newbs. These rookies were so green it showed in their skin color. Never have I seen such a lack of basic skills in my life! These guys couldn't even jet into the transport. I watched them flip and tumble, fall over, smack into the side of the vehicle, and fall off again and again. I was wondering what would kill them first... the enemy? Or would they just hurl themselves into a wall? I think they could tell I was quite apalled, since they hardly gave me any eye contact. I didn't mind.
After what felt like weeks, we managed to get everyone loaded into the transport, and we lifted off. The ride was a relatively short one, since we landed only about five clicks from the objective. As it turned out, the trip was even shorter than we planned, since intelligence failed to inform us that the tower was fortified with mutliple AA and missile turrets, and a pair of heavies with handheld missile launchers.
One of the first shots blew Thompson right off his shrike, and the vehicle just slowly sank to the ground. Suddenly becoming the closer target, my Havoc became the choice for those turrets and heavies. My tailgunner was throwing flares everywhere, and that bought us a few precious seconds, but there was little I could do to avoid those blasted AA guns in such a tugboat of a turbo-grav! I longed to be in that shrike...
We took a few good hits, but the havoc held together, even as the rookies bailed out. Eventually it was just me and the tailgunner left. I shouted over the comm channel that I had an idea. Since we were outgunned, and our men scattered, our only chance was to crash the transport into the sensor array. I glanced up at my tailgunner, and he simply nodded. I punched the afterburners, gritted my teeth, and steered into destiny.
In the seconds that followed, everything was a blur. Somehow I landed on my feet, with my armor rather beaten up. Debris was everywhere, and the sensor was destroyed, but I was stuck on the ground, and those two heavies on the tower had spotted me. I saw my tailgunner's body on the ground in front of me, and I knew there was only one thing I could do to survive... RUN!
I darted around the base of the tower, narrowly avoiding several mortar blasts. As I rounded the corner and headed into the field, I saw the corpses of all those poor newbs strewn about. Mortar explosions got them, I was sure. And I was next, unless I could keep moving fast enough. Miraculously, I managed to make it over the hill and stop for a moment to check my wounds. I was bleeding badly, and my armor was missing several plates. Those heavies were sure to chase after me, or lob a few blind shots over the hill, and I was in no shape for a fight. I peeked over the top of the hill, and saw that they weren't alone on that tower. A light and a medium emerged from the mid-level, and were headed straight for me. I turned around to see if there was a place to hide nearby, and caught a glimpse of a beautiful sight... Just behind the next hill was a glint of sunlight-- light reflecting off of that mint-condition shrike that Thompson had piloted along.
I knew what I had to do. I picked up and ran, jetting carefully so as not to hit the ground hard. I heard spinfuser explosions to either side of me, but I kept going without looking back. When I got to the shrike, I hopped in and glanced around. There was no sign of Thompson anywhere, and no blood in the cockpit. I found it very odd, but I didn't have time to think. I hit the afterburners, and whipped around to make my escape. My ears were screaming with warning tones of locked-on missiles, but I got my speed over the magic 288 KPH, and I knew I was safe. The missiles ran out of fuel, and it was an easy flight back to the dropship.
The mission was a success, but I can't help but wonder what happened to Thompson. He was a good pilot, and a good friend. I have to assume he's dead, but since I had no proof, I'll choose to keep an open mind, and hope he's alive, somewhere out there. And the men who had yet to become true warriors, who died in vain during this mission-- I must salute them as well.
--Drognar, Veteran pilot of the Crimson Saber tribe.
[All content Copyright 2001, Ed T Toton III, All Rights Reserved]