Sunday, January 17, 2010

For Glory and Honor

The airlock leading to the shuttle bay opened with a hiss, and Lieutenant Commander Sutherland watched as two very young looking officers in their deck uniforms entered the hallway. They were both fresh out of the academy, very noticeable by their lack of tour ribbons, along with the youngness of their age. One was a tall, handsome Caucasian man, who Sutherland guessed was from North America; with close cut light brown hair and striking blue eyes. The other was a hard looking man with dark, almost reddish skin, that the Lieutenant Commander knew meant he was a Native American. He also had close-cropped hair, though his was a deep, raven black, and his eyes were almost as black as his hair.

The two stood at attention and saluted. Sutherland saluted back, waiting for the proper expression before signing the two through.

“Lieutenant Junior Grade Dan Williams and Lieutenant Junior Grade John Littlestone, reporting for duty and asking permission to come aboard, sir,” the Caucasian man said.

“Permission granted,” Sutherland said, completing his salute. “Welcome aboard the UNS Monitor, gentlemen. I’m Lieutenant Commander Mark Sutherland, communications officer and third in command of the Monitor. I’ll show you to your quarters and then introduce you to your eventual commanding officer on the flight deck. In the meantime, if you gentlemen will come with me?”

“Yes, sir,” the two said in unison, which caused Sutherland to smile.

He lead the two down some corridors, occasionally having to step up to make it through another airlock like door. As they walked, he spoke some about the Monitor.

“As you are no doubt aware, the Monitor is a top of the line, cutting edge Carrier, with the capacity for more than 80 fighters, including F-121 Interceptors, F-130 Valkyries, H-90 Eagles and DS-85 Pelicans. You boys, being the newbies on board, will no doubt be flying the Interceptors.”

He could see that Williams was disappointed by not being able to fly the Valkyries, but Littlestone seemed impassive. He thought he would perk them up a little.

“What you may not know, however, is that we just received a squadron of the latest FX-214 Whisper stealth fighters.” He paused to let that sink in, and saw that both officers looked at him with excitement on their faces. The Whispers were so new that no one had even seen one at the academy yet, but everyone had heard about them. “Commander Winters, our CAG Officer, has determined that all eligible pilots will train on the Whispers. She wants everyone to get a feel for the new tech before assigning a crew to the squad.”

He could see both officer’s brighten with excitement at the prospect of getting their hands on a Whisper, but William’s in particular had an amazing reaction to the news. His face lit up like a kid at Christmas, just chomping at the bit to tear into those presents sitting under the tree. It caused Sutherland to wonder about the Lieutenant’s maturity level.

They continued to walk down the corridor, this time in silence, as the two officers day dreamed and Sutherland made a mental note of Williams. He didn’t know exactly what it was about Williams that had him concerned, while Littlestone, who had the same reaction, didn’t bother him. He decided to see if he couldn’t find out.

“So,” he started as conversationally as he could, “I see from your files that you both graduated at the top of your class at the academy. You had your choice of assignment, pending the approval of the CO of said assignment. What made you buys pick Monitor?”

“That’s easy, sir,” Littlestone answered first. “As an officer that just finished state of the art training on the latest state of the art fighters, I felt it only fitting that I should work on the latest, state of the art ship.”

Sutherland nodded. It was arrogant, but not more so than he had heard from other pilots straight out of the academy. “What about you, Williams?”

“Me, sir?” he said in false modesty. “Well, sir, I became a fighter pilot for one thing, to fight in this war. Not to toot my own horn, but I was the best of the best at the academy, sir. Monitor is the best of the best in the fleet, and I knew that it would serve on the front line. I intend to keep my best of the best record by proving myself in real combat, sir.”

There it was, Sutherland though. Glory hound. He’d faced them before, and it never ended well for them. Though, in the case of Williams, he knew that his boast was not a hollow one. He really was the best pilot from his class. Commander Winters would have his hands full with them. He would make sure to pass this onto the Commander when he finished this tour.

The remainder of the tour went pretty much as normal. Sutherland showed them around the ship, including the wall mounted touch screen maps, where the main officer’s mess hall was, as well as where the pilot’s mess hall was, the rec room, gym and finally, their quarters. Given that they were the newest junior officers on board, they would share quarters. Still, a room with just the two of them was better than what they were used to at the academy, and the two thanks the Commander for the tour.

“Tomorrow, bright and early at 0600, you are to be Briefing Room 5,” Sutherland said, reading from his palm computer. “There, you will meet Commander Winters, get assigned to your squadrons, and no doubt get your first duty assignments.”

“Yes, sir,” Williams and Littlestone said in unison, and both saluted.

“Get some rest, men,” Sutherland said, and returned the salute. “And good luck.”

The door closed behind him as he walked away, and Williams and Littlestone looked at each other. They stayed quiet for several long seconds before bursting into laughter.

“Luck?” Littlestone said as they both turned to stow their gear. “He obviously doesn’t know us.”

“Oh, I know all about you boys,” the very angry looking woman said as they arrived at their briefing at 0559. They stood in a terrified attention, holding a salute that had yet to be returned. “Best of the best at the academy,” she said, as she circled around them. “Big fish from a small pond.”

Her gaze held contempt in them as she looked them up and down. When Williams saw this, instead of being further intimidated, however, he became determined to prove to this woman that he really was the best of the best. He clenched his jaw, stopped his trembling, no matter how slight it was, and squared off his shoulder, standing at an even more rigid attention that previously. The commander noticed all of this, and nodded slightly, as if approving of the new attitude.

“Well, your in the ocean now, boys,” she continued. “My ocean. And I am a shark, that eats academy fish for breakfast. You boys got that?”

“Sir, yes sir!” the two said in unison. Winters nodded again. She had heard about their unison ‘sirs’ from Sutherland, and figured these two had plenty of opportunity to practice them at the academy.

“Good,” she saluted them back finally, and the two completed their salutes and put their arms down to their sides. “Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, waving towards the two of them in a grand gesture while speaking to the other pilots in the room. “I’d like to welcome the newest members of the Monitor flight crew.” She turned to look at them, and seemed to get irritated that they had not moved as of yet. “Take some seats, gentlemen.”

Littlestone moved first. He nodded his head and, grabbing Williams by the arm, dragged his friend up the short flight of stairs to find some seats in the middle of the large, rounded room.

“Let’s see,” Commander Winters continued, reading from a computer pad, “we have Lt. John Littlestone, call sign Three-Step, and Lt. Dan Williams, call sign Eagle. Interesting call signs. I can’t wait to hear the story on them. They will be joining Gray Squadron under the command of Lt. Lupo. Lupo, say hello.”

A big wall of muscle with a clean shaven head stood up and waved at the two new recruits and smiled a smile that did nothing to reassure Littlestone. “Hello. You two can call me Big Shot. Welcome to the Grays.”

A few of other pilots sitting near Big Shot cheered and waved as well.

“Okay, now that introductions are over,” Commander Winters re-took control of the conversation, “let’s get on with today’s duty assignments.”

She tapped some commands on the console before her, and the large screen behind her flared to life, showing a list of pilots, patrol routes or other duties. In one quick glance, Littlestone saw that Gray Squadron had a rear patrol today, probably because of the two of them. It was a test flight to check out the new fish. Before he could look any further, however, the lights in the room dimmed and red lights started flashing. Simultaneously, a siren started going off. A female voice came over the comm. system.

“Enemy craft sighted, fighters inbound. All pilots are to report to their craft and scramble to engage. This is not a drill.”

“You heard the woman,” Winters shouted, “everyone move out!”

“This is it,” Williams was saying to Littlestone. “Our first day here, and we get to jump into the action right away.”

Littlestone sighed. Williams knew that while, outwardly, his friend never shared his enthusiasm for battle, once they were out there, the two hotshots were peas in a pod. Everyone was rushing out of the briefing room in an orderly fashion. Before Williams had a chance to question where they would be going, Big Shot came up behind them and slapped them both on the back, causing Dan to loose his breath and cough.

“You two are with me,” he said with a big smile, showing that a few of his teeth were missing. “Since we didn’t have time to assign you two more experienced wingmen, you’ll both be flying as mine.”

“Yes, sir,” William said, happy with this arrangement. Being able to show off in front of the boss was even better than just relying on computer data to prove his expertise.

The two followed him down a short hallway to the locker rooms, where they changed into flight suits. Then, they ran to a lift, traveled in quite for a few moments, and exited the lift into the controlled chaos that is the flight deck. Unlike the ancient nuclear aircraft carriers of Earth’s past that Dan’s father kept at his naval museum, the flight deck of a space carrier was, by necessity, enclosed. It was flat, however, with several of the fighters being brought up on flat lifts through the floor from the maintenance and repair deck below it. It was essentially one long, square tube at the front end of the ship, with crews swarming all over the place and fighter pilots rushing to pull on flight suits and get into their ships.

Big Shot pointed them towards one end of the deck, where several Interceptors waited. The ships were arrowhead shaped with missiles attached, or being attached by crews, to the wings, a small looking, wedge shaped cockpit on the top and a booster thrusting out the back end. All in all, they were perhaps the ugliest fighters in the entire fleet. Or at least, Williams thought so. However, they were the workhorse of the fleet fighter contingent, having been in service for several decades now with little to complain about and plenty to praise about in their performance.

“These two will be yours,” Big Shot said, patting one of the ships and pointing towards another. Williams noticed that the name plate still had the previous pilot’s name there. ‘Lt. Xavier “Zorro” DeMarcos.’

“You’ve got some big shoes to fill there, fish,” Big Shot said to Williams, who blushed and hesitated slightly before he stepped into the cockpit. He briefly wondered what happened to Zorro, but figured it was best not to dwell on such things. As the deck crew did minor, last minute preparations to the fighter, he could see Three-Step in the fighter next to his. He was touching the nameplate on his, another case of the wrong name, and was saying a prayer of some sort. Williams never understood the purpose of doing any of that, but whatever worked for his friend, he would let slide.

He went through his own pre-flight superstitions. He pulled a small wooden statuette of an eagle in flight from his flight suit, and set it down behind some controls so it would be visible, but out of the way. He patted it and said “give me luck.” Then, he patted the cockpit window after it closed, connecting himself with the ship. “Fly for me, girl? Like you did for Zorro, fly for me.”

“Gray squadron, prepare for launch,” came Big Shot’s voice over his helmet speaker as he pulled on his gloves. “Check in.”

He heard the other members of the squadron check in using call signs, and waited until only he and Three-Step were left. “Eagle, checking in,” he said, followed by Three-Step.

“Launch,” came the command from Big Shot. And without hesitation, in the same order they checked in, Gray Squadron launched, rushing down the flight deck as fast as they could, so that when they hit space, they were already going at top speeds. As he passed through the force field that kept the flight deck from the vacuum of space, everything went dark and silent, and he took in a deep breath. He always loved this part. There was this brief moment where the gravity of the ship gave way to space, and he could feel the weightlessness before his own ship took over again. It made him feel connected to the universe.

Before he could really enjoy that feeling, however, an enemy fighter craft flew right by him. It was long and thin, slightly curved in the front, like a single talon, with crescent shaped wings on the very rear of the ship. It was so close to him as it flew by that he could count the rivets holding the plating together.

“Keep your eyes open, Eagle!” said Big Shot, sounding annoyed, but continuing. “Gray Squadron, form up on me! Let’s go get these Xenorite bastards.”

Xenorite was the name that an unknown biologist had given the strange, hostile race of aliens humanity had first encountered over 2 years ago. Even though, during the course of the war human’s were now forced to fight in, the true name of the alien species was discovered, Xenorite was what everyone kept calling them.

The dogfight seemed to last for hours. Big Shot turned out to be a very skilled pilot, and it took everything that Three-Step and Eagle had to keep up with him a lot of the time. But, through it all, Eagle learned a few new tricks to pull on an Interceptor, as well as put in a few that he knew that no one else on the squadron knew. During that time, he also got in two confirmed kills and three assists.

Then the tide of the battle turned. The attack on the Monitor had been broken, and everyone switched focus from defense to offense. The fighters moved out to attack the Xenorite cruiser. That was when the alien’s revealed their trap. Hundreds of fighters appeared from behind the small moon their ship was orbiting, and with Gray Squadron leading the charge, Eagle, Three-Step and Big Shot were the first to greet this new threat.

“Break formation!” Big Shot was calling. “Break formation! Return to Monitor, repeat, return to… arrgh!”

Eagle watched as his commanding officer’s fighter was hit by enemy fighters. First one, then a second and third, and finally a swarm of them were flying over and past, as if the human were nothing but a ribbon to cut as they crossed the finish line. But that was before the worst part. A green beam of energy came out from the Xenorite cruiser and latched onto Big Shot. A tractor beam, Eagle thought.

“They have Big Shot,” he said into his microphone. “I’m going in to get him.”

“I’ve got your wing,” came the instant reply of Three-Step, causing Eagle to smile despite the seriousness of the situation. The two of them rapidly dodged in and out of the tail end of the cloud of enemy fighters, mostly focused on reaching the rapidly receeding Big Shot than on taking down Xenorites. But, the aliens had other plans, and it didn’t take long for a group of four fighters to break off from the rest and swarmed on Eagles craft. Despite his best efforts to avoid being hit, he soon found himself taking hit after hit. He knew this was it. His first real battle, and he was going to die in it. He found himself feeling disappointed. Then, another blast hit his ship, and threw him hard forward. He felt a sharp and overwhelming pain in his abdomen, and then his whole world went black.

He awoke lying on his back, staring at a bright, white ceiling with lights just out of his field of vision. He turned to look around and felt his head swim and his stomach lurch at the motion. He groaned, which activated some kind of movement from the other side of whatever room he was in. He figured it must be an infirmary of some sort, maybe back on the Monitor. He couldn’t remember what happened after the dogfight. He kept his eyes closed for the moment, though. The darkness helped ease the sensation that his brain was disconnected and sloshing around in a thick liquid in his skull. A somewhat androgynous voice came to him.

“I knew you would wake soon,” it said, slowly pronouncing each word individually, as if English were not the speaker’s native tongue. “They not believe me that I keep you alive.” There was a smug satisfaction behind that statement, and Dan just had to know who was talking to him. He opened his eyes slowly, only to view a nightmare.

He had seen Xenorites before, but only in video or pictures, and one corpse during training. He had never seen one moving and talking before. They were surprisingly human like in appearance, although with several obvious differences. For one, their skin tended towards a rust-red color, though this one seemed pale compared to the other’s he’d seen, almost pinkish. The close cut hair on top of its head was salt and pepper colored that, on a human, would give the appearance of age and wisdom. The noise was small and flat, but the nostrils were wide and flared. The ears were also flat against the skull, and smaller than a human’s. Earth scientists have determined that their range of hearing was not as broad as humans were. The eyes, however, were the most frightening part of the alien because of how much they resembled a human’s. They were slightly larger than the average human’s, with whites and a corona of color, in this case a light gray, and a black pupil. All in all, they were very human like, and he could even see the joy in the alien’s eyes to be talking to a living human.

Beyond it’s face, Dan couldn’t see much. It had on a loose fitting, bright red outfit that appeared to be made out of some kind of plastic. It also wore white gloves that were made out of the same material. Around it’s neck was what appeared to be a surgical face mask, and Dan’s stomach lurched again as he began to wonder if this was an alien doctor.

“What the hell have you bastard’s done to me!” he said, and started to struggle to get up from his bed. Two things prevented him. First, the swimming sensation in his head returned, forcing him back down. Secondly, he noticed for the first time that his arms and legs were strapped down to the bed. He closed his eyes and groaned again.

“Calm,” the alien said, raising one hand palm facing him. “Calm, human. I save you.”

“You what?” Dan said, opening his eyes again. The Xenorite was pointing to Dan’s stomach area. Moving slowly, he lifted his head to look down. He saw that he was shirtless, and that a white bandage had been taped to the left side of his abdomen. There was some red on the bandage, but over all, it seemed pretty clean.

“I save you,” it said again. “You had metal in stomach. I doctor. I remove metal. Surgery,” the alien said that word very slowly, pronouncing each syllable. “I save you life, keep you alive.”

It smiled and seemed very proud of itself. Dan was very confused. Why would the Xenorites want to keep him alive? Suddenly, he felt very tired, and lay his head back down on his bed, sighing.

The alien nodded. “You tired. Good. You rest, sleep. I come back, check you later.”

Dan wanted to stay awake, find out what was going on, but found that he was just too tired. He closed his eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. It felt like he had just fallen asleep when someone shaking him jarred him awake. He fluttered his eyes open to find himself looking into the very concerned eyes of Three-Step.

“Dan!” he said, stopping the shaking. “Thank God, I was afraid those bastards had done something to you!”

“Wha…?” Dan replied, still groggy.

“Here,” John said, helping Dan sit up.

Dan looked around. He was still in a clean, white room, but this time, he was on a bunk, instead of a hospital bed. A quick glance gave the appearance that this room was more like quarters, with a door leading to a closet, another one to a head, a small table with chairs, and even a dresser or some kind. He noticed that there were two other bunks in the room, and that there was someone else in one of them. Whoever it was didn’t look so good, rolling back and forth and groaning.

John followed his gaze and nodded. “That’s Big Shot. He’s not doing so well after coming back from that so-called doctor. I don’t know what they did to him, but I don’t think he’s going to make it.”

Dan pushed himself out of the bunk and made his way across the room. John was right, Big Shot didn’t look like he was going to make it. The man’s face was black and blue with burses, and he had blood all over the white robes he was wearing. Dan noticed that he was wearing the same kind of robe himself, but his had no blood on it. Whatever happened to the Lieutenant, it was bad.

“Lieutenant?” he said, crouching down and touching the big man on the shoulder. “You in there, Lieutenant?”

“I’ve been trying that for hours now,” Three-Step said. “He’s unresponsive. Just rolls back and forth like that, groaning.”

“How long?” Dan asked, looking back at his friend.

“How long have we been here?” John asked, with a bitter laugh on his lips. “Well, I was never unconscious like you two were, my ship managed to avoid being hit during the run. I’ve been in here ever sense. Near as I can tell, we’ve been here for at least a day, 18 hours minimum. The L T was placed in here by that damn quack they call a doctor about 3 hours ago, and you just got here a few minutes ago. I was afraid you were dead.”

Dan nodded. That seemed to fit how long it felt. He’d always had a good sense of time. Before he could say or do anything else, though, the door to the room slid open, and four Xenorites came in. One was the doctor that he had spoken to before, still in his red uniform. The other two were larger and carried obvious sidearms. They wore more obviously military uniforms, and had the look of seasoned veterans about them.

The doctor was saying something and pointing to Big Shot.

The three soldiers nodded and moved across the room to take Big Shot. Both Dan and John jumped up to stand between them and the lieutenant, but they were prepared for that. Dan was pushed aside easily, still groggy from his sleep and not at full strength from his wounds. He hit the ground hard, and was out of breath and sweating from the exertion. John had slightly better luck, managing to land a punch to the noise of one of the soldiers, which caused him to stumble back clutching the now bloody facial feature. The other two, however, worked together to subdue John. One grabbed him from behind, holding his arms back, while the other punched him in the stomach. Dan watched as the punching continued, and looked over to the doctor, who had looks of concern on his face. When he looked back at Dan, Eagle pleaded with him through his eyes to stop.

The doctor stepped into the room then, shouting something in their alien language, and again pointing at Big Shot. The two aliens stopped beating on John, looked at him, then nodded and replied something short in a shout that Dan thought sounded an awful lot like ‘Sir, yes Sir.’ The two then got their companion up and the three of them lifted Big Shot out of the bunk and carried him out the door. The doctor, however, lingered behind for a moment, looking from John to Dan and the back to John.

“I sorry,” he said in English, then moved out of the room himself.

As soon as everyone was gone, Dan rushed to Three-Steps side. He tried to help his friend up, but found that he was just too weak. John, however, was able to push himself up off the floor. His face was bruised, and from the way he held his ribs, Dan guessed that they were either bruised or broken as well.

“Bastards,” John said. He made his way to one of the bunks and lay down on it. “Probably going to cut him open.”

“What?” Dan said, not sure he heard John correctly.

“Yeah, why else would they take him? It’s obvious even to us that he’s dying. He’s of no other use to them. This way, they can find out more about our anatomy, what makes us tick, and our weaknesses.”

He thought about the doctor who took Big Shot away, the same doctor that he saw when he first woke up. He seemed very excited that he had saved Dan from certain death. It didn’t seem very likely that he just took Big Shot away to cut him open without
trying to save him first.

“I’m not sure that I buy that,” he said after a bit.

“What?” John said.

“That doctor,” Dan said, explaining. “I’m not convinced that he’s willing to just cut into Big Shot without trying to save him first.”

“Are you serious?” John was instantly angry. “These things are trying to kill us all! We’re at war, remember? What possible reason would there be to save Big Shot? It’s just not how they think, Dan.”

“Normally, I’d agree, but there’s something different about that Doctor.”

“Did they cut into your head?” John was almost yelling now, and started to get up out of the bed, but flinched and grabbed his ribs when he did so. He sat back down, and then sighed. “Did I ever tell you why I joined the military?”

“No,” Dan said, “I don’t think you have.”

“Four years ago, when this war started, do you know where my mother was?” He didn’t actually wait for Dan to answer, which was good, because Dan had no idea. John never talked about his mother, and Dan figured he was about to find out why.

“My mom was at Vega 4 Research Outpost. You remember that? A station full of civilian scientists that were researching a new terraforming method. Then, the Xenorites show. Do you remember what they did?”

Of course Dan did. Every single human being knows what happened to Vega 4.

“They attacked without provocation. And they didn’t just settle for destroying the outpost. No, they slaughtered every last person on the station, leaving them behind as proof of their viciousness. My mother, Dan. My mother! They’re animals! Every last one of them. They don’t want to save us. They want to torture us, find out what we know, and then kill us for sport! That so called doctor of theirs? He’s just the best with the tools.”

His energy spent, John seemed to collapse into himself, and then lay down on the bed. Dad stayed where he was in quiet contemplation. Up until today, Dan would have agreed with John about the Xenorites being animals. Vicious and without morals. At least, that’s what the reports all said, and he believed them. But, he still couldn’t bring himself to believe that the doctor from earlier was like that. There was real concern and kindness in those eyes.

The next day passed without any conversation between the two. Once, a guard came in, weapon dawn the whole time, and gave them food. Dan ate, but John declined any food offered by the aliens. Later, after both John and Dan were sleeping, Dan was awoken by a gun poking into his back. There were to guards, both armed, and the Doctor in the room. The Doctor indicated that Dan should be silent by pointing to him and then putting his hand over his mouth. Dan did as ordered, and gut out of bed and walked down the corridor. He was taken back to the medical bay he had been in before, and the Doctor came in behind him, saying something to the guards, who remained outside.

The doctor indicated that Dan should sit, then went to a desk and picked something up. He walked over to Dan and picked up his arm, indicating that Dan should open his hand. The Doctor then dropped something into it.

“I sorry,” was all he said, and Dan saw that he looked genuinely remorseful.

Dan looked into his hand, and saw a pair of dog tags. He knew instantly who’s they were, and he clutched them tight in his hands.

“I try everything I know, but humans not like us inside. I try. I sorry.”

Dan looked across the room at the alien that stood before him, realizing that this was a gesture of good will.

“I believe you,” he said after moments of silence, and meant it. Suddenly, glory seemed very fleeting, and not worth fighting for.

The silence stretched on for some time before Dan breached it.

“Now what?” he asked.

“Now,” the Doctor started, but then hesitated. He looked Dan up and down, then nodded to himself, as if deciding something about Dan. “Yes. Now, them,” and he nodded at the door as he said that, “They will kill you. You and you friend. They will ask you questions, and if you no answer, or if you yes answer, they will kill you.”

Dan saw sadness in the alien’s eyes. He only nodded, though. “That’s to be expected. We don’t serve much purpose alive if we don’t have any information to give.”

“No,” the Doctor said. “No more kill. No more death. I help you. You and you friend. No more death.”

He pointed to Dan’s hand, and Dan looked again, turning the dog tags over. That’s when he saw a small key card. It must be to the cell he and Three-Step where in.

“Here,” the Doctor said. “Map to fighters. You fighter there. Go, escape. No more death. No more kill.”

He handed Dan another small, flat card, but this one had a button on it. Dan pressed it, and saw a map appear as a hologram before him. Better yet, the map showed where all the living things on board the ship were. This was amazing. With this map, he could easily avoid any patrols or other Xenorites to get to his ship and get out.

He looked up in awe at the alien doctor. Then, he reached out his hand. The Xenorite hesitated, looking at the offered limb as if unsure of how to proceed. Dan helped by grabbing the Doctor’s arm and putting it out, then flattening out his hand. Dan then gripped it with his, and shook his hands.

“Thank you,” he whispered. Then, the doctor knocked at the door. Dan was taken back to his cell with Three-Step, who still lay on the bed, trying to ignore Dan. Dan didn’t care at this point, though. He held up the dog tags.

“Big Shot is dead,” he said simply, but for that he only got a grunt.

“The Doctor gave me his dog tags. And with them, a way to escape.”

That got John’s attention. He rolled over, and Dan showed him the key card.

“You believe that butcher in there?” John said. “It’s probably a trap. A last bit of sport with us before killing us.”

“Be real for a second, John,” Dan said. “Why would they do that? Why not just kill us? Besides, if they are just going to kill us anyway, wouldn’t you like the chance to escape before they do it?”

This caused John to pause, then he sat up. “Okay, if I can take a few of them out before I go, I’m in. Let’s see what this little toy of yours does.”

They went up to the door, but found that there was no lock on it. At least, not on the inside. That made sense, if this was a prison, why put the lock on the inside?

“Okay, wait,” Dan said. “He also gave us this.”

He turned on the map, and John looked it over in surprise. “That still doesn’t get us out of this room.”

“No, this key opens something, and my guess is it’s the lift. It will take us directly to the launch bay, where we can get out of here.”

“We still need to get out of this room,” Three-Step said, feeling like a broken record.

“I know.” Dan said. “They have to come back with food tomorrow. What if we fake an illness? Get the Xenorite that comes in to lower his guard, and we escape?”

“This isn’t a movie, Dan,” John said. “That never works in real life.”

“Let’s just give it a try.”

“Whatever,” John said, and returned to his bed.

Dan waited. It took what felt like another day, but sure enough, eventually the door opened and in came a guard. Dan fell to the floor instantly, clutching his side, where the bandage still was. He groaned. The guard, keeping his gun on Dan, came further into the room to check out Dan. He didn’t get far, though, before one of the chairs from the table hit him across the head and knocked him out.

“Okay, so it worked,” he said, picking up the gun. It looked odd, but had a normal trigger, so John figured that he could at least fire it, if not anything fancy. “But, don’t let this go to your head. We still gotta steal a ship and get out of here.”

They exited the cell and crept their way down the hall until they reached what looked like a lift. Dan inserted his card key, and the door opened. Then, inside, he inserted the key into the only slot inside, and the lift moved. He checked his map, and sure enough, they were heading straight to the hanger deck.

“Traffic looks light in the hanger bay,” Dan said, “Must be in FTL. That could be a problem.”

“We’ll get to that when we get there,” John said, pointing his gun to the door as the lift came to a stop.

No one was in immediate site, but the two ducked behind some barrels that smelled like oil. They did a quick view of the hanger bay, and saw that, sure enough, one of their ships was sitting at the bay, near where they were.

They made it over to the ship by crouching low. When they got there, they saw it was John’s ship, which was what Dan expected, his being the only ship that didn’t take a hit before being dragged on board. Dan climbed up to the cockpit and opened the canopy while John stood watch. He got as far as climbing into the pilot’s seat to do the pre-flight check before he heard John swear below him. When he looked out, he saw why. Several Xenorite soldiers with rifles of some kind were running towards them, yelling at them, probably to stop or freeze or something similar. They must of set off some kind of alarm.

“Get the ship started up, Dan!” John shouted, firing back at them. Then, he started to climb up the ladder into the rear seat of the cockpit. He didn’t get half way up, however, before being shot. Dan watched in horror as he saw the bullet burst out the rear end of his friends skull. John was dead instantly, and fell to the ground below him. The alien’s kept firing, bullets bouncing off the thick metal of the hull.

Tears streaming down his face, Dan punched up the controls for the fighter, closing the cockpit and starting up the engines. He turned on the ships guns and fired off a few shots at the soldiers, which sent them scattering for cover. That gave Dan the time he needed. He taxied the ship onto the runway and started it down the tube. He saw that, indeed, the ship was in FTL, which presented a problem for him when he exited, as his ship was not going FTL. Best-case scenario, he would end up in a random part of the universe, alone. Worst case scenario, the ship exploded upon exiting the cruiser. But, he didn’t have much choice. There’s no way these soldiers would let him live now, and the Doctor would not be able to help this time. So, he gunned it.

He closed his eyes just before exiting the force field holding in the atmosphere of the ship. The ship lurched to the side, and it felt like it was hit by another ship. Had he rammed into the side of the cruiser? Then, there were other jarring pushes to the ship as it jostled back and forth. He opened his eyes to read controls and try to re-gain control of the ship. But nothing he did worked. Suddenly, the jostling stopped, and he found himself in normal space. He was still in a solar system, because he could see a sun. Judging by it’s size, he would guess he was in this system’s outer planets. He hoped it wasn’t a Xenorite controlled system, because that would help him get home.

He put out a broadcast S.O.S., and then sat back and prayed. Surprisingly, he got a return signal after only an hour. It was from the Monitor! He was still in the same system the dog fight took place in. The Xenorite cruiser must have hidden out in the outer planets, probably for repairs, before hitting FTL a few days later. He would be picked up by the Monitor now, and get proper medical care from human doctors.

He looked at the dog tags in his hand, and thought of Three-Step. He knew something that the alien Doctor had told him was true. No more killing. No more death. His desire for glory was gone. This war needed to end, and it would only end due to people like that Doctor. And Dan Williams had determined right then and there to become another one.

The End

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