The UEE was an easy gig for the most part. I’d dabbled with electronics from an early age. I never liked the idea of an inaccessible ‘black box.’ Most folks see devices as some magical relic, complete and uniform, that made their lives convenient. I always saw them as treasure waiting to be opened.
Flying was a pretty easy gig, too. Sadly, the UEE didn’t have as much use for a technician as they did for a pilot. So, I came this far as a stealth bomber, sitting comfortably out of the enemies’ reach and going all in when the real bad guys showed up.
Fighter pilots got most the attention – dashing and daring darlings of the Empire. We all got mostly the same wage though, equally expendable though varying in bravado. Us bombers had no qualms against other pilots, but we certainly didn’t make as much noise, on or off the field.
“The Quiet Hammer” was our mama bird. Our trigger happy escorts all rode on a slightly larger ship; “The Big Bang.” Our cleverly named duo were ship killers. We made sure the outer colonies were free from Vanduul raiding ships, and we were always the first to answer any distress signals. We’d removed plenty of forward bases and brought down a number of Vanduul Capital ships.
It was a call that we had answered too late that made me question my position.
Xis was hit hard. We got a dozen or so distress calls from a handful of ships as they attempted to evacuate. But the calls came from families, farmers, and medical staff. All still planetside.
We arrived just as the Vanduul ship was entering its warp for escape. It wasn’t like them to make a hit and run attack on our colonies like this. We were all taught that the Vanduul were arrogant and overly aggressive in their tactics – I would have expected them to stay and fight.
For once, there was nothing for us to blow up.
We drifted for a few moments in orbit. Even from there, we could see the craters and debris. I I could practically hear the screams.
Anytime we answered a distress call, Admiral Lockett opted to play them over the comms throughout the ship.
“It is integral for morale that we all know why we are here,” he would say.
The entire crew boiled with contempt after we heard those calls, and this time we had no closure. But it wasn’t the calls that made me question my position.
As I drifted and waited to dock my ship, I got close enough to one of the beacons in the wreckage of one of the colonists ships. I scanned and listened to it. A young voice spoke up with a calm terror, and after listening to their story, something changed inside me. I couldn’t keep this up.
“Coast, hide, volley, repeat…” That was how my wingman described our job once, half smiling over lunch. I’d also hear him whisper it privately sometimes in our dorm.
I repeated it to myself. “Coast, hide, volley, repeat.” I shook my head. “No more.”
It was time to get out. Knowing that I was the only one who had heard this particular beacon had struck a chord with me.
After finishing my tour, I locked my Eclipse in a hangar at Arccorp for a few years. I tried to pick up as many technician jobs as I could, and took on other odd jobs in between repair contracts, mostly helping small colonies with a Vulcan. There was also some escort work, and even bounty hunting once or twice. I strayed from combat as much as possible, but in space, there’s no shortage of enemies no matter who you are.
The UEE and I were on good terms. You had to be on good terms if you wanted to land anywhere civilized.
But every time I commed for payment at the end of a job, it was inevitably followed by a barrage of “so do you miss it?” and “when are you coming back?”
“I told you, I’m done,” I would always respond. I would try to mask the pit in my stomach with a fake chuckle anytime I was reminded of my duty on the edge of space.
One day, an officer contacted me through a transmitter I had in the back of my Vulcan. Only a handful of people knew I had it, and even fewer knew the channel ID.
It was Admiral Lockett. I had told him in confidence once that I had the transmitter. Once he knew, he made me show it to him so that he could confirm personally it wasn’t capable of anything nefarious. He must have recorded the ID when I was deployed.
He was contacting me with a job offer. This time, he needed fighters for a direct attack on a Vanduul capital ship.
“We found it. We found the same ship – it is identical to the IFF of the Vanduul ship at Xis. This one doesn’t fight like the rest of their shiteating species. I know why you left, even if no one else knows. This is your chance to hit back.”
He went on to describe why this particular General had been a problem. It would find colonies and observe their activities. Once the General determined that the UEE was too far to pose a threat, they would bombard the colonies. Scores of people were being wiped out.
The job Lockett was offering me was to take a wing of Ravens and discharge a pulse big enough to bring the ship to a stop. Eclipse detail were tasked with hitting the thrusters just after our initial discharge, followed by the Quiet Hammer warping in to finish them off.
This was unnerving because Ravens and Eclipses were equally known for their lack of armor – silent ships came with a price.
Despite my growing anxiety, I agreed to the job.
Those comms at Xis had haunted me every day since… this was my opportunity to quiet the screams we all heard that day.
I met with Lockett at a Blacksite on Lorona. I could see the 4 Ravens and 2 Eclipses as I brought my Vulcan down. I commed, and a voice came on, stating that I had a pad waiting for me just below, and that my arrival party was waiting.
“Welcome back to the edge.”
I saw that my old wingman was standing down the site with his Eclipse. Lockett walked me down the site and introduced me to the other pilots. The planet was dark in a strange way. The Banshee system held a delicate blue-white star at the center of it, so any and all light we could perceive even at night had a soothing feeling that you wanted to resist… like Widow. Part of you wants to feel nice, but part of you wants to scream.
The briefing was short. We mounted up and warped to the planet that tactical analysts had determined the General was targeting next. Our wing waited quietly for what felt like a week. Which was probably only a handful of minutes.
Our power was left on to avoid the conspicuous start-up emissions that came with powering the ship off and back on. Everything was throttled down to further mask our signatures.
The plan was to wait here. The ship killing duo plus a few other ships were waiting for our mark. Another day as a pawn in the game… the UEE gets a lot of flack, but if nothing else, they were organized.
Suddenly, our sensors flared up. This was it. Our target had arrived.
“Coast, hide, volley,” I muttered.
The comms were down in order to avoid being detected, but I knew the others were saying the same thing.
The Eclipses hung back enough to avoid our pulses.
The capital ship began bombarding the planet below, and I cursed while the EMP emitter growled to life. I began to accelerate, and the other Ravens followed. I couldn’t believe how quickly they began firing before we could engage… this attack must have been scrupulously planned beforehand.
We all brought comms on to coordinate our attack once we were ready to let loose. “Time to volley,” I said with a grin.
“You remember!” I heard my old wingman chuckle out loud. “I’ve missed ya, buddy.”
The Eclipses accelerated toward the ship, locking in their weapons as our four Ravens let out a massive eruption of electromagnetic terror on the capital ship from every side.
Not more than two moments after, six size-9 torpedos were on their way.
We saw the Vanduul open their hangar door to retaliate. Their turrets turned towards us, but had no power.
They didn’t know there were more of us.
Before the bay door finished opening, the volley of torpedoes collided with the ship, and all of our ships rattled from the shockwave.
The UEE arrived in time to see the flames and shrapnel disperse from the wreckage.
We heard whooping and hollering over our comms as we drifted in orbit over a leveled colony. I was glad to finally be rid of my own demons… but as I looked upon the few scorch marks dotted across the planet, I couldn’t help but feel the same wrench in my gut from Xis.
My hands moved across the console, and I made the jump without thinking.
I had to be anywhere else.
When I came out of warp, there was nothing. I stared blankly into the void.
I shut off my power.
I shut off my engines.
I grabbed a tablet of Widow from my boot lining.
I removed my helmet, took the tablet, and drifted into oblivion.
It had been months since I had used. I didn’t consider myself an addict… I only kept one or two tablets around for when the trauma got bad.
I pictured my Vulcan, grounded on Lorona, as well as my Eclipse back on ArcCorp.
There I was, sitting in one of the most advanced electronically adept fighters in existence, quiet like my girl sitting locked away. Starving for attention. “You remind me of her…” I whispered. I let my hands feel underneath the panels holding the blank screens. I stared regretfully at the ‘stealth’ button on the side. “Not all ships have one of these, you know…”
I laid my head back and closed my eyes. My entire body was tingling from my toes to my brow and back.
MInutes went by before I lowered my head and raised my eyes. Multiple ships warped in.
“Well, looks like we’ve got some onlookers,” I chuckled.
I put my helmet back on, and waited and watched. It seemed to be a flotilla of smaller ships. Maybe they were also escaping something, too. There was absolutely nothing else out here for them.
They came to a halt.
I EVA’d into their hangar and was greeted with open arms. Everyone was drinking and singing and cheering, thanking me for fixing all of their failing components.
Soon, we were all sleeping, and breathing, and sleeping, and touching, and sleeping, and –
I gasped, sweat pooling from my forehead.
They were still there, I can’t imagine how long I’d been out. Minutes, maybe an hour. The longest I had ever been out was 4 hours. Widow wasn’t always kind.
They were still drifting, and I immediately powered my ship up while keeping my signature dampened. I didn’t know if they were friendly or not yet.
Groggy from my stupor, I commd the largest vessel.
“None of us can be here for a good reason… were you followed?” I asked, coughing.
“Apparently…” a voice said, irritated.
I got blip warnings of weapons locking and grimaced.
“I’m running from the UEE, nothing criminal. I only just defected.”