So a very long time ago, I came up with an idea for a campaign. I recall during the great blackout of August 2003 actually putting pencil to paper to get my ideas down to pass the time until the power came back up. Unfortunately, I lost the paper, and my original rundown in a hard-drive failure. Then in 2010, I decided to turn it into a literary work and ended up writing 85 pages worth at 10 size font in MS Word. Eventually, I kinda ran into a creativity wall, where I couldn't seem to come up with how to develop my characters further. I've sat on this for years. I've dusted it off every once in a while to see if I can get some more momentum on it, but no dice. I often find spelling mistakes or better ways to word things, but for the most part it stays unchanged. After a recent run-though, and seeing a few recent posts by other writers, I decided it was time.
I had written an introduction when I considered emailing a draft to my mother, who is completely unfamiliar with Freespace.
I have split it into chapters and formatted it for posting. I intend on releasing one chapter per week in separate threads.
Chapter 1 – Black Sheep
October 7th, 2367 – 17:35 Hours, Terran Galactic Time (TGT)
In a quiet peaceful corner of the Capellan system, a small battle raged. Bright bolts of pink energy streaked across space, which faded to purple as they dispersed into obscurity. They were followed by another volley of fire, and another in rapid succession. Moments later, a fightercraft raced by along the same vector as the weapon fire, with another craft in hot pursuit. The pursued, a GTF Ulysses fighter, jinked and dodged, as it attempted to evade the constant stream of fire from the GTF Perseus on its tail. The Ulysses was more maneuverable, but it couldn’t outrun the faster Perseus.
A torrent of Subach HL-7 fire, burst from the attacking Perseus, skidding along the shields of the Ulysses. A few shots pierced through the energy barrier and impacted the hull, inflicting damage to the engines and causing it to leave a thin trail of burning plasma in its wake.
Realizing he was in trouble, the Ulysses pilot spiraled his craft in an outside barrel roll, keeping his craft’s thinnest profile towards his attacker, while traveling in an evasive course. He was good, skilled, and seasoned… but the pilot of the Perseus was better. Rather than trying to follow the nimbler space-superiority fighter through its dance, he broke away and used his craft’s superior speed to move to a parallel course some distance away. He then turned back inwards and used the Ulysses’ larger side profile to gain a sensor lock. A swarm of missiles then broke away from the Perseus and sped away towards the damaged fighter. The Ulysses pilot, who received the electronic warning of the launch, broke out of his initial evasive maneuver and attempted to outturn the incoming warheads, but he was already in too vulnerable a position. Only two of the eight Hornet missiles failed to hit their target. The explosion took out his starboard engine and breached his reactor containment. The doomed Ulysses spiraled out of control, before being incinerated by the momentary, microscopic star that had been its reactor core.
Victorious, the Perseus blasted by the remains of its opponent, then turned sharply back the way it came, aiming for the bright flashes of weapons fire in the distance, which identified the main fight. Reentering the foray, the pilot could see that his fellow wing-mates were continuing to dominate the engagement, as the defending Ulysses and Lokis’ numbers were dwindling. The Fenris cruiser that the enemy had been defending had taken a beating. Gashes and scorch marks lined the hull, accentuated by sparks from exposed circuits, and trails of flames and smoke, indicating a breach of an inner hull segment where atmosphere was present. Despite this however, the cruiser plowed ahead a full speed, though only at a meager twenty meters per second, continuing its attempts to outrun the fight.
The returning Perseus pilot switched from his HL-7 weapons, to Akethon SDG disruptors, and let lose a stream of fire against the cruiser, taking out one of its aft Triple-A turrets that was charging up in preparation for a shot. The explosion sent momentary arcs of electricity over the Fenris’ drive section, and the cruiser’s lights flickered a few times.
It had been ten minutes since the engagement began, and despite the initial warning to surrender, the enemy was still fighting. Protocol required him to repeat the transmission. The pilot switched his comm. system from encrypted combat mode, to general hail, and opened his microphone.
“This is Lieutenant Percy Sacks, of the 77th Black Sheep, Gamma wing, to the NTC Damocles. You are ordered to surrender your vessel. Shut down your engines, power down your weapons, and-”
“This is Captain Sheila Gomez of the NTC Damocles. I will not
take orders from the likes of you
! Until I receive a surrender command from Admiral Bosch, I will continue to hold this vessel for the Neo Terran Front. The tyranny of your-”
“Listen Gomez,” Lt. Sacks cut in sharply, making little attempt to hide the impatience in his tone, “you’ve exhausted your subspace drive energy, and won’t be able to jump for at least an hour. Your fighter screen is nearly gone, you’ve got no reinforcements, and –Oh yeah… your fearless tactical genius Bosch who led the entire NTF to be devastated by a gauntlet of GTVA firepower, before running like a coward to hide in the nebula, will prob’ly be in custody by this time tomorrow.”
Sacks let those words hang in the air for a few moments, so that the full impact of the situation would sink in. “Now personally, I’d love
to take down a cruiser and add a major notch onto my score card, but these guys at Command, whom I work for, like their defeated enemy to have a public face. That way, the politicians that Command
works for can show those faces at trials, to the voters. The voters will see that they are in fact doing their jobs and fulfilling their promises, and vote to keep them in office next election. They’d prefer that we take you alive. So what’ll it be, Gomez, blown to pieces aboard a dying cruiser, or spending the rest of your lives behind bars… but alive?”
Several seconds passed without a reply from the Damocles, and Sacks stole a glance at his radar, to confirm that the last of the enemy fighters had been destroyed. Sensing that the crew of the Damocles needed another little nudge to convince them, Sacks lowered his voice to sound both stern yet somber. “Give it up, Damocles,” he began, before adding “you’ve got nowhere left to run.”
“Gamma leader,” broke in Lieutenant JG Yuka, his wingman, on the encrypted frequency, “All hostile fighters down. The screen is clear except for the Damocles. What are our orders?”
“All fighters assume attack vectors on the cruiser but do not
engage until I give the order,” he replied.
“Copy that,” “Rodger, sir,” “Acknowledged Gamma One,” came replies from several of his wing-mates.
After a few seconds, the Damocles began to slow, and the pursuing fighters followed suit. “Gamma wing, this is the Damocles,” began the voice of Capt. Gomez, sounding considerably less defiant than in her previous transmission, “we are prepared to-.” Suddenly, a large blue orb, nearly blinding in its luminosity, spawned above and ahead of the Damocles. Waves of energy clouds rippled out laterally as the subspace transit vortex coalesced. From the vortex’s center, silhouetted against the brilliance, emerged a vessel bearing the sleek and graceful lines of a Deimos class corvette.
“This is the GTCv Hampton Roads,” the corvette broadcasted confidently to all, in effect asserting its dominance over the battlefield… to both parties. “NTC Damocles, on the authority of GTVA Command, you are ordered to surrender your vessel or be destroyed. There is no escape!”
“HOLD YOUR FIRE, Hampton Roads!” replied Gomez hastily, “we are prepared to surrender at this time. I repeat: Damocles surrenders! We are powering down our weapon systems.”
“Surrender accepted Damocles. Maintain your position and await further instructions,” ordered the captain, in his southern American drawl. “Command, this is the Hampton Roads. We have secured the of surrender the NTC Damocles.”
“YOU’ve secured a surrender?
” thought Sacks, “and what, all we did was give them a slap in the face?
“Well done, Captain Grant. You and your crew will receive commendations for this capture,” thundered the deep voice of ‘Command.’
“’Command’… does that guy even HAVE a name? It’s the same guy no matter what time of the day it is. Maybe there IS no real person. Maybe it’s just a computer avatar,
” he mused.
“We are deploying the GTT Pilgrim to secure the Damocles and take its crew into custody,” continued Command, “Remain on station until the job is done.”
“Command, this is Gamma wing, 77th Black Sheep, GTD Hood,” broke in Sacks, feeling that the actions of him and his wing were being more than just a bit
marginalized, “with all due respect, we
had the situation well
“Thank you for your assistance, Gamma wing,” announced Captain Grant, “we’ll take it from here.”
“Return to the Hood for debriefing, Gamma. Your mission is over,” ordered Command.
“Command, the Damocles was preparing to surrender to my
wing, when the Hampton Roads muscled its way in and declared themselves
the victors. My pilots deserve
credit for this surrender,” Sacks pressed, his patience rapidly dissipating, “not some loud mouth who likes to show off his ‘big guns’”
“Crap, me and MY big mouth.
Gamma leader!” shouted Command, “You will report back to the Hood immediately. You can expect to receive disciplinary action from your squadron commander!”
“Command, this is Gamma Three, Lt. JG Manetti, our mission data recorders will confirm Gamma One’s claim. The Hampton Roads never fired a shot and didn’t arrive until we’d cleared out the fighters and closed the noose around the Damocles.”
“He’s telling the truth, Command,” added Gamma Six, Ensign Sharpov, the newest addition to the Black Sheep.
wing!” began Command, nearly in hysterics, “you are all flirting with insubordination! If you all
are not back aboard the Hood and in your squadron debriefing room in exactly five
minutes, you will all
be subject to just
such a charge!”
,” Sacks quickly asserted, feeling that his wing-mates were about to protest, “Come’on Gammas, you heard ‘Command
’, time to call it a day.” Seconds later, the six-fighter formation entered subspace on a vector back to the Hood.
The GTD Hood… the second-longest serving destroyer in the GTVA. She’d been commissioned just two days before the Shivan attack on Ross 128. Some who’d served aboard her said that she’d been cursed… not with bad luck or hauntings like most superstitions, but with always being sent to fight the battles that no one else wanted. When the rest of the fleet was off heroically dueling with the Shivans and saving the galaxy, the Hood had been stuck in Aldebaran fighting against the guerrilla tactics of the Hammer of Light. Only rarely had she ever tangled with the Shivans, and never any capital ships.
The Hood had had her share of heavy combat and had taken down several enemy capital ships, but it was always ships like the Bastion or the Minnow, which got the glory. Even during the Hades rebellion, the Hood had faced down five Leviathan class cruisers protecting a major GTI supply convoy that was attempting to reinforce the Hades itself. Even with depleted fighter strength, the Hood still successfully took down four of the cruisers, while the fifth lost power and was abandoned by her crews. The Hood had taken severe damage, losing more than a third of her crew to attacks by Zeus bombers, but in the end she had held up and still had enough fight in her to maintain the blockade of a major jumpnode.
Command had nearly ordered her scuttled when it was all over. With a looming economic downturn, many couldn’t see the value in keeping her around, much less repairing her, when others were meeting such a fate, that were in far better condition. In the end the thing that spared the Hood from the scrap yard was the fact that she was so far from the core systems. Command needed to maintain a presence in the outer systems, and it was deemed unnecessary to deploy a newer-build destroyer to take her place. Therefore, the Hood was repaired to “operable” status, but it would be nearly two decades of being brought in and out of moth-ball before she’d see a full refit and returned to fully operational status and assigned to the 4th Fleet in Epsilon Pegasi. Soon after that, she was given a modernization with new reactors and most importantly… beam cannons. While she had become a formidable presence on the battlefield, once the NTF conflict broke out Command would still subconsciously always keep the Hood back from major or important engagements, preferring instead to use her in rear-guard and defensive actions. The Hood and her crew continued to serve with distinction, but were always kept out of major spearhead operations, instead performing containment and mopping up roles in Alpha Centauri and later in Sirius once Bosch ordered the NTF to run the gauntlet.
Now, as the NTF was all but crushed, the Shivan Sathanas taken out by the Colossus, and a heavy GTVA fleet presence in the nebula, the Hood was still kept back from the heavy combat. Her orders had been to trail the NTF’s fleet rampage and try to pick off stragglers and anyone else that got separated from the main fleet. The Hood was now residing in Capella, having just stopped the last known remaining pockets of NTF forces in Allied-Controlled space, and still being denied any real recognition.
The Hood served as home for four squadrons of fighters. The 77th Black Sheep was a Space Superiority squadron, which also branched into interception and heavy assault. The 58th Black Daggers acted as a light Recon. squadron, which also doubled as space superiority and interception. They flew mostly Lokis and Myrmidons. The 139th Black Mantas was a dedicated Heavy Assault squadron, flying a combination of Hercules Mk.II and even the older Mk.I from the Great War. The last squadron was the 91st Black Panthers, a Medium Bomber squadron, flying mostly the older Medusa bombers, with a number of Boanerges which were supplementing the older craft, and a few Zeus bombers for strike missions.
The Hood now sat, with all her unsung glory, before Lt. Sacks and the rest of Gamma wing, just having warped in from engaging the Damocles. Below her lay the massive, gaseous bulk of Capella 5, a gas giant which many Terrans had nicknamed “Jupiter 2” for its heavy atmospheric banding and fierce storms. Rear Admiral, Gregory Troy, C.O. of the Hood for more than a year now, had chosen this location due to heavy sensor interference from Jupiter 2’s radiation belts, which kept her hidden to some degree. Unfortunately, it also limited the Hood’s scanning range, so there was a constant Combat Air Patrol of interceptors and heavy assault fighters. As Gamma wing cruised towards the destroyer, they passed nearby to Delta wing, flying Herc IIs. “No Erinyes or Ares
,” Sacks commented to himself cynically, “only the REAL pilots get those. Only Command’s favorites get ‘em. Not us… the Fleet’s joke without a punch line
At the far end of the CAP, Sacks could make out the sunlight reflecting off the glass of cockpits, identifying Epsilon wing, flying Perseus class. “And it’s a miracle Command let us have those. Otherwise they’d stick us with Myrmidons and say that they’re enough for what we’re gonna face. Thank God for the Shivans
,” he though again, with cynicism, “Nothing like a REAL threat to scare some better equipment out of the tight-assed Command
Gamma wing closed on the Hood, to a point just off her bow, at which point the Landing Signal Officer came over Sacks’ cockpit speakers.
“Welcome back, Gamma wing,” began the LSO, her tone of voice indicating that she knew something was up, “you are cleared for approach. Please proceed to docking lifts seven through twelve.”
“Acknowledged, Hood,” replied Sacks, “aligning on approach beacon Beta.”
“Commander Tanner has directed your wing to report to the briefing room as soon as you board,” relayed the LSO.
“No surprise,” croaked Sacks, “stand by for final docking.”
In perfect formation, Gamma wing entered the Hood’s fighter bay, slowed to maneuvering thrusters, and then each nudged themselves into the magnetic clamps on the bay walls. As they docked and powered down their engines, each fighter was raised upwards through a lift, then laterally into the destroyer’s main body. The cockpit section of each craft opened into a hallway, while the aft hull section lay within a cavernous maintenance area, occupied by a combination of robotic arms and suited Terran personnel.
As sacks exited his cockpit into the hall, he could see through the reinforced, transparent wall to the maintenance bay, as his craft underwent service. Further down the hall, he could see Lieutenants Yuka and Manetti, as they exited their own craft and headed for the main corridor. All five of Sacks’ wing mates exited the hall with him, to find a member of ship’s internal security waiting for them… Corporal Mars. Mars never said a word… he didn’t have to. He just motioned politely with his arm, towards the briefing room. The six pilots just shrugged and headed out, as they removed their flight helmets and gloves.
Standard procedure after a mission would have pilots make a brief stop in Decon., a chamber designed to scan for and remove any unknown or dangerous biological contaminants that the pilots might have brought aboard. Since there was no contact with outside sources, it was really redundant, but still standard procedure. They would then head to the debriefing room and make both verbal and written reports on their actions and observations of the mission just completed. This whole process would take roughly twenty to forty-five minutes, depending on how eventful the mission was, and what kind of biological sources were detected while in Decon. Skipping this and going directly to the Briefing room was highly irregular. On top of that, they had been assigned a member of security to escort them. It wasn’t like there was a danger that they’d try to make a break for it, or pose a threat to the ship. If they’d drawn serous charges, there would be at least two guards plus the security chief himself, and they’d be sent directly to the brig. Being sent directly to the Briefing room usually meant that either they were urgently needed for another mission, or they were facing a dressing-down by the squadron commander… and the later was a foregone conclusion, considering their actions.
As the group approached the door to the Squadron Briefing Room, Corp. Mars stood just outside the door and again, silently motioned for Gamma wing to enter. As they passed by, Mars gave Lt. Manetti a subtle wink, and a reassuring nod.
The Briefing room was constructed like a small theater or lecture hall, in a quarter-circle. Seats for the pilots could hold the ship’s entire pilot compliment of one hundred and fifty, if necessary. Only twenty seats were occupied, though, since only a small portion of the ship’s fighter capacity was being deployed. The briefing had already begun, but only just.
All eyes in the room turned to Gamma wing, as they entered. Some pilots shook their heads subtly, others suppressed chuckles, while a few rolled their eyes at the new arrivals. Commander Elizabeth Tanner, Squadron Commander for the 77th Black Sheep, knew as soon as Gamma entered, that she no longer had the attention of the room.
“Thank you for coming Gamma wing,” she announced dryly, “please take your seats.” As they passed in front of the podium, Tanner looked down at her watch, and took note. “Four minutes, fifty-three seconds. Right down to the wire. As I was saying, there have been reports of encounters with Shivan fighters near Capella 9’s 4th moon. They are likely fighters deployed by the Sathanas prior to its destruction. Alpha wing, you will investigate this location, but make a sweep of the entire planetary region. Beta wing will also search Capella 8 to be on the safe side, and provide backup if Alpha wing gets into trouble. Alpha will fly Hercules Mark II, Beta will fly Myrmidons.”
Sacks made a visual sweep of the room, noting those present. Everyone in the room, Commander Tanner included, had been transferred from other squadrons, usually against their will. They were the misfits, the outcasts, the troublemakers, and those who had problems with authority figures… Sacks was lumped under the later. There was one thing that they all had in common though, that had prevented them from being discharged already (honorably or otherwise)… they were all exceptionally skilled pilots. They all deserved the title of “Black Sheep”, just as they deserved the ship they flew from, and its reputation.
At 5’8”, Lt. JG Rick Yuka was the shortest of the Gammas, and clearly of Asian descent, though tempered by other ethnicities. He retained the dark hair of his heritage, which he kept in a traditional crew cut. Yuka was a capable pilot and a skilled shot, but not that sociable when off-duty.
Lt. JG Jennifer Manetti stood 5’10” with chestnut hair was cut off at the jawline. She was probably the most easy-going member of the wing. Manetti remained the team’s optimist, though often an over-optimist, always grasping on the best possible outcome. Fortunately for her, she’d already dealt with disappointment from her previous assignment and could take a failure in stride. Manetti was also quietly popular among the male crewmembers due to quite flattering physical profile. The men would eye her from a distance, which she didn’t mind, but in the past it had gotten her some unwanted attention from her superiors who tried to coax some “personal attention” out of her in exchange for career advancement. To stem this, she’d resorted to non-enhancing undergarments and keeping her flight jacket on to break up her profile.
Ensign Luke Mallory was the tallest of the wing, at 6’3”. He kept his blonde hair trimmed and slicked back, but his mirrored parts on either side gave the appearance that his hairline was a “V” rather than straight across. His most endearing quality other than piloting skills, was his strong loyalty to his fellow pilots, both in and out of the cockpit. When anyone had a problem, Mallory would always be there to back them up, though he wasn’t as good with interpersonal problems. His least endearing quality however, was his sharp temper and liberal use of foul language. Sacks had to put the leash on him more than once to keep him from saying something off the cuff that could jeopardize his career. Most of the time he hung out with his closest friend among Gamma wing, Ensign Boris Sharpov.
Ensign Fatima Rashid was just a hair taller than Yuka, at 5’8” and ½, possessing the typical olive-tone skin and dark eyes and hair common to most of Arabic descent. If anyone from Gamma wing could ever expect to be transferred out of the Black Sheep to an “A” list squadron such as the 107th Ravens, it was her. She kept to herself mostly, spending most of her off-time reading, which kept her out of the trouble that the other Gammas could get into. Rashid was a practicing Muslim, but didn’t closely observe all of their customs and traditions such as those pertaining to attire and relationships.
Ensign Boris Sharpov had been assigned to the Black Sheep for just over a month, but he was already the most well-liked member of Gamma wing, (apart from Sacks), mainly stemming from his sharp wit… leading to the seldom-used nickname of “Sharpy”. He was slightly shorter than Manetti, at 5’9” and ½, and his round face made him look slightly pudgy, without appearing fat. He kept his dark hair in a crew cut, though trimmed back further than Yuka’s. His dry sense of humor made the doldrums of being a Black Sheep more bearable for the rest. Mallory and he got along well thanks in fact to their personality differences. While Mallory’s social instincts were to attack, Sharpov’s were to deflect and diffuse. The two complimented each other well, balancing their tendencies as a whole, and they stuck together like a polar ionic bond.
Lieutenant Percy Sacks himself stood just a hair over 6 ft. and though somewhat muscular, he was still slim enough that it didn’t show until he had his shirt off. He kept his black hair parted down the middle, and slightly longer than the rest of his male wing members, but still within regulation. Sacks wasn’t as anti-social as Yuka, but when it came to his off-duty interactions, he was known to be a man of few words. He’d sit in on conversations or a play a game of cards, but he’d only make the occasional interjection where he felt it relevant, preferring to keep his distance most of the time. Few in the squadron knew of his entire background, except that he’d been transferred in from the 129th Mustangs and may have flown for SOC briefly.
“We’ve also got a load of refugees being evacuated to Vega. Now, it appears that all remaining NTF forces have been eliminated, and Shivan presence has been sporadic and localized, but Command isn’t taking any chances. Eta wing will provide cover at the Vega node. Make sure all the transports make it out safely.”
That announcement prompted groans from the four pilots of Eta wing, with muted responses of disapproval from other pilots. After a few seconds, Eta 1, Lt. Eckley, rose from his seat to address the Commander. “Ma’am,” he began, “what’s the point of escorting a convoy that doesn’t need escorting? Why aren’t we off in the Nebula taking on the main Shivan fleet? 3rd Fleet HQ has enough fighter strength to take on anything left in the system twice over on its own, so why are we
getting held back?”
From behind her podium, Commander Tanner glared back at him. She too deserved to be a Black Sheep. She’d been a pilot most of her life, even flying for the 53rd Hammer Heads at one point. There was no official reason known for her fall from grace, however it was noted that she had been married at one point, now divorced. The reality of it was that she had been married to a civilian, and her long deployments led to his infidelity, which had ended it all. She had taken it hard, entered into a depression and became an alcoholic. Fortunately for Tanner, she kept it under control most of the time, not wanting to be caught, and thus risk her career… the only thing that meant a damn to her now. It was unofficially known among the Squadron however, that whenever she had leave, she never actually left the ship… or even her own quarters. She’d spend the entire time in seclusion. No one would enter her quarters during that time, not even the Admiral… at least, no one was ever seen
going in. Food would be sent to her quarters via the lift system and she used her own private Head. When it was over and she returned to duty, Tanner appeared exhausted and was a walking bad-hair-day, but always fit. For this reason, any of her superiors who might have sufficient reason to investigate, always steered clear. She did her job… she kept this motley crew together and functioning. She allowed each pilot the same leeway that her superiors gave her, allowing them each their own breathing room to maintain their sanity, but kept a hard line against it getting out of control. For many, the 77th had been their last chance to shape up or ship out, and some had fallen to the latter option. They’d pushed too far, and crossed Tanner’s line, leading to dishonorable discharges and court-martials.
Now, one of her own pilots was questioning the judgment of Command, through her. God knows she sympathized with him. Most of the pilots in that room did, but as Squadron Commander, there was a certain level of order she had to maintain. Placing her hands on both sides of the podium, Tanner leaned forward and tightened her glare.
“You’re new here Eckley, so get this straight,” she then paused and glanced around the room, lingering on Sacks, “get this straight all
of you… you go where Command tells
you to go. We may not like bringing up the rear of every engagement; we may not like being Command’s dumping ground, but as long as we are pilots of the GTVA, each and every one of you will continue to do your duty and fly the mission that Command assigns you… or would you rather sit this one out?”
At that, Eckley backed down and took his seat, but Tanner wasn’t done.
“As with many things in life, if you don’t like it,” Tanner thrust her arm off to the side with her index finger extended, “THERE’S THE DOOR!” She continued her glare for a few seconds, then resumed the briefing, “You’ll fly Perseus-class. Take that as a consolation prize,” she added dryly. “Beta wing will be at your disposal should you run into any serious trouble, but if Alpha’s already called on them, you’re on your own until that gets resolved.”
As Tanner gave Theta wing its orders to replace Delta wing on CAP, Sacks, who had been scanning the room casually, noticed in his peripheral vision another officer in the room. The officer sat towards the back near the upper door, and Sacks didn’t recognize him. To get a better look without drawing attention, Sacks bent his head forward and pretended to cough into his fist, while glancing back at the stranger. The officer wore the uniform consistent with someone of a commander’s rank, but wore no rank insignia. The only distinguishing feature of his uniform was a pin that he couldn’t quite make out. Since Sacks couldn’t linger in his fake cough pose much longer, and since he was only able to make it out with his right eye, he tried a different approach. Recovering from his “cough”, sacks casually picked up a miniature clip board that had been on his desk, and turned it over to reveal the polished metallic surface. Sacks appeared to be checking his hair in its reflection, but the adjusted its angle to include the mystery officer and his pin. Sacks’ eyes widened when he recognized the insignia but was forced to look away quickly and put down the clipboard when the officer realized he was being watched. Moments later, the mystery officer quickly stood and exited through an upper door.
“What the HELL are THEY doing, HERE of all places?
” Sacks thought.
“…just maintain the usual flight plan,” Tanner summed up, then staring at a young ensign in Theta wing, she added, “and try
not to fall asleep this time,” while putting on a sheepish grin. The ensign turned red-faced as his fellow pilots chuckled and teased him.
“Any questions?” she asked the room. A few pilots raised hands their hands leisurely, then she added, “any intelligent
questions?” at which the hands dropped. “Good. Head to your fighters, and good hunting. Gamma wing, please remain.”
“Here it comes
,” Sacks thought. As the pilots filed out of the room, many glanced back at Gamma wing, offering such looks as I-told-you-so, good-luck-you’re-gonna-need-it, or a few what-was-that-all-about. When they’d all left and the door closed, Ensign Boris Sharpov was the first to speak up.
“I take it we’re not being readied for a special mission,” he began, with his usual dry sarcasm.
“The only mission the six of you will be embarking on is the one that has you confined to your racks for the rest of the day,” she shot back. “On top of that, your flight status has been suspended for the next week, at least.” That last bit shocked everyone out of their laid-back demeanors, but Mallory, was the first off the draw.
“What the HELL?” he jumped in, “We put our asses
on the line so someone else
can come in and take the credit, just so we can get hit with this bullshi--!” Mallory never completed that expletive, as a sharp glance from Sacks cut him off mid-word.
Tanner came out from behind the podium and casually walked over to where Gamma wing was sitting. “Your wing refused a direct order from Command and insulted the captain of the GTCv Hamtpon Roads.”
“That last one’s on me,” Sacks spoke up, casually. “Because I couldn’t just let it go
,” he thought.
“Which, being wing leader, makes it even more of a problem,” she replied, “you were the one who was supposed to keep the rest of your wing in line, not set them off.”
“To be fair, Commander,” began Rashid, “no one actually refused
the order. We were protesting the Hampton Roads coming in and snapping up our credit for the Damocles surrender.”
Tanner looked puzzled for a moment, then checked the mini clipboard she was holding, and noted, “Command officially recognized Captain Grant and his crew for the Damocles capture.”
“They never fired a shot,” Lt. Yuka stated, flatly, “we had taken down the escort and Gamma leader had ordered the Damocles to surrender. Captain Gomez refused and Gamma leader pressured her more forcefully. Gomez was giving up when the Hampton Roads jumped in and ordered the surrender.”
“So, what you’re saying is that you did the hard work and then the Hampton Roads jumped in at the last second and took credit,” it was a statement rather than a question.
“That’s it in a nutshell,” replied Sacks. “Where did that expression come from?
“While I may agree with your sentiments, it doesn’t excuse your actions. Lt. Sacks, since you were both the instigator and the senior pilot on deployment, you’ll be receiving Admiral’s Mast. The rest of you will be on probation for the rest of the week. You’ll be assigned some kind of menial task that the X.O. decides upon. If you haven’t royally screwed things up when the week is up, you’re back on flight status. As for you, Sacks… well, we’ll see what the Admiral decides when the week is up. He may decide to reevaluate your future as a GTVA officer.”
Tanner then lowered her voice somewhat into a more somber and thus more personal tone, and continued, “Off the record, everything would have been different if you hadn’t shot your mouth off, Sacks. As for the Hamtpon Roads getting credit for the Damocles… well, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this happen aboard this ship and it won’t be the last.” Then finally, with no hint of hostility in her voice, she added, “you’re Black Sheep… get used to it. Dismissed.”
The six Gamma wing pilots rose from their seats, with no real haste, and headed for the door, with Sacks bring up the rear. As Manetti exited the room ahead of him, Sacks punched the manual door close button and said, “I’ll catch up to you,” as it closed. He then turned around and strolled over to Tanner who was gathering up her notes at the podium.
“If you’re trying to change my mind, save your breath. The decision comes from higher up,” she said coldly without looking up.
“I knew it was coming the moment the words ‘loud mouth’ escaped my lips,” Sacks replied, smiling, “but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What’s the trouble then?” Tanner asked, having filed away her notes, closed the flap on her folder bag and looked Sacks in the eyes with an expression of strained patience.
In turn, Sacks moved in closer, lowered his brow and put on as serious of an expression as he could, “That officer that was sitting in the back earlier; any idea who he was?”
Tanner appeared noticeably surprised at Sacks’ unexpected question. “Just an observer from the PR division, from what I’ve been told,” she replied, lightly shaking her head.
,” he pressed.
“I never really looked into it. The X.O. said he was from PR so I never gave it a second thought,” she replied… then tilted her head down, furrowed her brow, and resumed in a more probing tone, “Why? What do you know?”
Sacks looked back at the place where the officer had been sitting less than five minutes previously, then turned back to his Squadron Commander and lowered his voice even further. “He had a pin on his uniform… the only form of adornment I could see. I recognized it form my time with the 99th Skulls. It was the insignia of Galactic Terran-Vasudan Intelligence.”
Tanner’s eyes snapped open and locked onto Sacks’. Her expression conveyed the unspoken question, which Sacks himself had posed just moments before... “You’re SURE?
” Sacks replied with a subtle nod. “I don’t know,” Tanner replied quietly, the worry showing through. There were many things that an unofficial visit from GTVI could mean. It could mean that there was a breach in classified info from someone in the squadron and he was here to find out who was responsible. It could mean that some of the pilots were being considered as possible recruits for Special Operations Command. Or, given the highly classified nature of GTVI’s activities, it could mean virtually anything. Unfortunately, they also took part in internal investigations and given Commander Tanner’s personal problems, it could mean that someone had reported her alcoholism and it was her that was being investigated, which would explain her being kept out of the loop. “…But I’ll keep my ears open and make a few inquiries. Thanks for spotting that. I owe you one… HELL, I owe you a whole bunch
“Don’t mention it, Lizzy,” Sacks said, his demeanor and tone having lost its intensity, “that should make us even.” Tanner furrowed her brow in confusion, to which Sacks added “If our wing made it back here in less than five minutes, then I’m the son of a Shivan. I saw the clock; it was six minutes and four seconds,” he added lightheartedly.
Tanner, hearing Sacks use her first name, visibly relaxed the tension in her shoulders, but opened the floodgates to all the emotions she’d been holding back. Fortunately, his little joke had got her laughing.
“That’s the one thing I miss about you, Percy… in a life of grief and depression, you always know how to make me laugh.”
Sensing that all pretense of formality had been dropped, Sacks moved forward smoothly and took Tanner in his arms, though he still wore his flight suit. He never kissed her, though it was hardly as if he hadn’t in the past, but he sensed that she needed to be held more at this moment than anything else.
“GOD she’s beautiful
,” thought Sacks, “but all everyone sees is the stern, schoolmaster look
“If they’re here for me… if they take my career,” she stopped, on the verge of tears, then let her coldness take over and held them back. “Without my career I’m nothing but a washed-up drunk. I’d probably fill myself up on Tequila or that awful Vasudan Vodka that’s been making the rounds, waltz into an airlock and let the Universe take me.” Sacks was about to say something when Tanner continued, “but if you don’t get reinstated… I’m not sure I could make it through the months knowing that you’re not there for me on leave.”
Sacks stroked her black hair that she kept pulled back in a bun, except for her frontal bang which was always loose, though a bit wiry. “Maybe we’ll both get discharged together,” he suggested light-heartedly, “we could travel through the galaxy together. We could maybe find some old cruiser the NTF left behind, patch it up and head off into Mintaka and wherever the nodes lead us from there.”
Tanner’s tears were beginning to flow, but Sacks’ remarks got her laughing again. “As long as we stock up on booze before shipping out,” she joined in, then added, “there’s no way I’m doing something like that dry.”
“Oh, I’m sure we can find something,” Sacks replied, “maybe we can find that long-rumored beer stash that Bosch had hidden in Polaris. There’s no way he’d’ve been able to smuggle that much liquor onto the Iceni before making a run for it.” “Though sometimes I think that he was on something a bit harder than alcohol to do what he’s been rumored of doing
,” he thought. Tanner laughed again, then gave Sacks a strong embrace and kissed him, holding it for a few seconds.
“Thanks, I needed that,” she said with her eyes still glistening from the tears, but a broad smile on her face. Sacks then raised an eyebrow, as a silent offer if she was game for anything else.
“Sorry, fly-boy, but there’s another squadron briefing in here in five minutes,” she said, returning to her Squadron Commander demeanor.
Sacks stepped back, brought his hand up to his forehead in a courtesy salute and replied, “Aye, ma’am.” He then straightened his stance, grabbed his helmet and gloves off the podium, and made for the door. As he crossed the room, his face returned to that of the quietly cynical pilot on death row, which the rest of the world saw.Link to Chapter 2