By Joseph DeRepentigny
“Warheads!” a shrill voice called from across the bay.
Paul and a new recruit turned toward the source of the shout. “Short!” Paul shouted back with a smile.
The recruit looked back at Paul with a quizzical look, “What was that all about sir?”
Paul smiled at the recruit. The kid was typical for someone straight out of training. He sported a fresh crew cut, his uniform hung on his shoulders like a drape, and his freshly washed brain was unaware of the realities of life in the space service. Paul at first was going to give the kid some hooey about the scout pilot’s code. Instead, he decided to tell the kid the truth. “It is an ancient Earth military term. It means I am a short timer that is someone with less than a month left in the service.”
“No sir, I meant what was the warhead stuff about?” The recruit asked.
“Recruit, what is this?” Paul said pointing at a Scout Ship.
“A Scout Ship sir!” the recruit said snapping to attention.
Paul smiled. It amazed him that normal thinking people went into basic training but flag waving automatons came out. Well he figured that after a few weeks at Camp Cohen on Alpha Proxima 4 the kid would become a surly malcontent like himself. Paul was only a few years older than the recruit was. His hair was a normal length and his uniform bulged in places. The important thing was he had an unwashed brain.
“At ease recruit,” he said with a fatherly smile. “What does this thing look like?”
“A Scout Ship sir,” the young man replied a little less certain as to the proper answer.
Paul shook his head. “Clear you mind of the baloney they fed you in training and look. This is a twelve-meter long tube with a pointed nose. It is two meters in diameter and has a high speed FTL (Faster than Light) engine with liquid fuel assist.”
“Sir the recruit is familiar with the specifications of the scout ship.” The recruit replied with a slight hint of anger in his voice.
Shaking his head Paul said. “Kid this is a missile. Prior to the perfection of particle weapons, the battle boats used to launch missiles like this at each other. Once the missiles became obsolete, the space service removed the fusion bomb, put in a small one-man cabin, and upped the speed by tenfold. The craft has no real weapons, a low powered plasma gun for defense or asteroid splitting, and a chaff pod to confuse enemy tracking systems. Thus we are now the missile’s warheads and thus expendable.”
The chief’s attitude shocked the recruit. “Sir if that is true, why did you join the Space Service?”
“Economics kid, I have always wanted to own a bar in a space port.” Paul explained with a smile. “You learn to mix a few drinks and sit back and rake in the dough. Unfortunately, I do not have any bar owners in my family nor do I have the money to buy a bar. Therefore, my only choice was to join the service. After doing my five-year tour I can apply for a government loan with no interest and no taxes. With that money I can buy me a bar and live the good life.”
“What if there is a war?”
“Who’d want to start a war with us?” Paul said with a frown. “None of the other races has the chutzpah to start anything with us.”
“So why the scouts?” he asked. “You could have joined any of a dozen different branches and been in a lot less danger.”
“I studied this closely.” Paul said puffing up with pride. “If you do not have a college degree you start off as a private. Privates are yelled at all day long. I never liked being yelled at. That left the warrant officer program for scout pilots. We are not as high as commissioned officers but we are higher than the enlisted.”
The recruit left quickly certain he was in the presence of a bona fide nut case. Paul shook his head as the kid left. “Another victim of the government’s brainwashing.” He thought to himself. Turning in the opposite direction, he headed to the Warrant Officer’s lounge.
The Warrant Officer’s Lounge was the getaway for the scout pilots. Here was a bar adorned with trophies and mementos from past wars that served good drinks and bad food. A handful of tables littered the room along with a bar against the far wall. A jukebox played typical tear jerking songs to smooth out the atmosphere. Paul entered the sanctum without comment or notice.
Taking his usual seat, Paul patted the bar to get the bartenders attention. The young enlisted man from the Services Branch nodded and served Paul his standard tonic water with a twist of lime. He was about to take a sip when a voice interrupted him.
“What’s that Chief?” The voice to his left asked.
Paul turned toward the voice. Another bald headed recruit was sitting on the stool next to him. Smiling sarcastically, he replied. “This young friend is a container of liquid known across the galaxy as a “Drink.””
“Yes, I know that chief but what kind of drink is it?” The recruit asked.
“Tonic water and lime, the quinine is good for you.” Paul replied with an air of superiority.
“Let me buy you a whiskey Chief.” The recruit said waving at the bartender.
“Never touch the stuff.” Paul said shaking his head. “It tastes bad and is bad for you.”
“It is a man’s drink Chief.”
Paul held up his glass. “No son this is a man’s drink. What you have is a wannabe drink. The only reason you are drinking that concoction is because you have been led to believe that a real warrior, cowboy, or such drinks that stuff. In reality, few of us drink the hard stuff. We value having our wits about us. Being witless is a luxury that only children and rookies can afford.”
The exchange embarrassed the young man who fled to a table occupied by a group of men and women with equally shaved heads. Paul then prepared to take his first sip when a familiar voice sounded to his right. He turned to see Chief Weihauser.
“Was that really necessary?” Chief Weihauser asked in a low tone.
“I’m short Chief, 30 days and a wake up. Then I’m a civilian again. I don’t need them as friends and I don’t want them as responsibilities.” Paul said smiling. “In fact I start out processing in two days. Once I start, I will be relieved of all flight duties and training missions. Then the breaking these kids of the bad habits the training center gives them will be someone else’s job.”
“So why torment the recruits?” Chief Weihauser asked.
“I don’t know, I guess because it is fun.” Paul said smiling evilly. “I like the looks on their faces. Besides, we both know that liquor and space flight don’t mix.”
“Well leave them be.” Weihauser said. “You may still end up having to train some of them. Who knows you may even take them into combat.”
“Combat, what combat mission,” Paul asked.
“We may go to war soon.” Weihauser replied. “Then you’ll be extended for the duration.”
“I doubt that. Who in their right minds would dare go up against the Terran Alliance?” Paul asked showing some annoyance.
“The Rigillains, don’t you watch the news?” Weihauser asked.
“No, why would they want to fight us. We have the most modern force in the galaxy.” Paul said shaking his head. “All they have is numbers as an advantage. A war with us would be suicide.”
Weihauser shook his head. “Look, I don’t know the reasons. If I did, I’d be in charge. All I do know is that they and a few other races have been rattling sabers at us for several months now.” Smiling at Paul, he added. “So just be nice to the recruits and I’ll send all of my friends to your bar, OK?”
Paul smiled and agreed.
Two days later Paul had his out-processing paper work in his hands. Skipping morning roll call and briefings, he made a beeline for the flight surgeon’s office. Paul was so overjoyed that he did not notice people around him rushing around with grim looks on their faces.
Once in the flight surgeons office he saw Doctor Griffin. She was an older woman who held the rank of Major. None of the scouts liked going to her. It was said she had the bedside manner of an aggravated gorilla. Doctor Griffin’s opinion on the other hand was that most scout pilots were hypochondriacs. As such, she insisted on a full battery of tests before letting any of them take a sick day. Smiling that he got to her first Paul snapped a sharp salute. The sharpest salute he had initiated in years.
She looked at him with a sneer and asked. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m out processing Ma’am.” Paul said proudly.
She took the form from Paul and tore it in half. “No you’re not, we are at war. As such you are extended for the duration.”
Paul later learned that a coalition of Rigillains and several lesser races had attacked the terran Space Dock at Acturis. The result was the crippling of the Terran forces in that sector and a Declaration of War. Within six months, Paul and his scout wing were loaded onto a deep space carrier and moving into the war zone as part of a support group headed by the Heavy Battle Cruiser Blucher.
A Commissioned Officer gave the scouts a briefing. “Scouts, we are in a bad way right now. Our group was supposed to meet a friendly taskforce in this area. We have seen no sign of them. We suspect an enemy fleet intercepted and destroyed our allies. With just a battle cruiser and a few combat ships, we need to avoid the enemy and make our way back to the nearest base. Firing up our FTL’s would alert the enemy as to where we are. Therefore, we need to use you scouts as our eyes and ears.”
The recruits he had tormented were now assigned to Paul’s scouting team. Their hair had grown back and some of the women were nice looking. They had trained with Paul as a team for several months. Soon they regarded Paul somewhat like a crazy uncle. Paul on the other hand considered them to be his dysfunctional family. Still Paul was a professional and he didn’t want to get too attached to these kids.
Paul gave his team a briefing of his own. “People I need one on my port one my starboard and one on my stern. The other two are Zenith and Nadir of my position. The people around me must have their sensors searching for any unidentified ships in the area. The ship behind me must be prepared to rush back with our data on my signal. I want no heroes, just do your jobs and maybe someday . . .”
“ . . . I’ll get my bar.” The team finished in unison.
Paul smiled. “Right and you get swizzle sticks at no extra charge.”
The six of them were on patrol; Paul didn’t expect to find anything of importance. Space being as large as it was, meant that six ships on patrol had as much chance of finding anything as the proverbial needle in said haystack.
Paul was in his ship looking over his instruments with a bored expression on his face. As much fun as space flight was. Running a scout pattern in space was like buying a sports car and then driving it only to the market. Especially since the speed of a scout pattern was less than a third of the full throttle these ships were capable of doing. Paul’s boredom was short lived though.
The Ship on his Nadir piloted by Warrant Officer Samson broke radio silence. “I got a set of ion trails!” She shouted.
“Use the proper Radio procedures Samson.” Paul said calmly. “The Brass Hats will be reviewing our transmission logs when we get back.”
The young woman replied calmly with the coordinates. Once they were entered into his system, he used his ships telemetry to relay a new flight path for the rest of his team. This allowed them to move as a group and thus gave them the appearance of being a larger ship.
A Rigillain patrol ship spotted the FTL engine signature in his sector. To him it looked like either a lost freighter or a damaged destroyer. Either way his ship was not big enough to take on an opponent that large. He immediately sent an automated signal to the fleet for help.
Rigillains as a species were smart and calculating. They looked like hairy tree stumps with arms and legs. On their world, mammals never achieved dominance instead Sea worm creatures moved from the oceans to dry land. As a race, they prided themselves on their ability to hunt and take trophies of their hunts.
The signal sent by the patrol boat reached the Rigillain Juggernaut Hartherased. This ship was twice the size of anything in the sector Terran or otherwise. It was armed with over a dozen Plasma Weapons and ten missile ports. Along with an escort fleet of several dozen lesser ships, this was the main Rigillain Space fleet in the sector.
Paul saw none of this instead he saw the patrol ship moving away. He sent a signal to his team to follow the ship. After a few minutes, he saw the signatures of several other ships appearing around his target. Deciding that they had stumbled on a convoy or a Rigillain Scouting party, he opened communications with his rear ship.
“Nigel,” Paul said with a slight crack in his voice. “I am sending you all my data. Scoot back to the battle group and tell them to get here ASAP! Get to full speed in ten seconds. Everyone else goes to half speed and maintains their present course. Hopefully our acceleration will cover Nigel’s departure.”
The Rigillains saw a flare in space that looked like perhaps the ship they thought was a freighter was in fact a light cruiser. A light cruiser was a formidable foe for lightly armed patrol ships. The patrol ship commander wisely called for more help. When the Hartherased’s commander Admiral Van heard the news of a Cruiser in the area, he ordered his ship to full speed and ordered his other ships to maintain contact but not to fire on his intended trophy.
The flare of the Juggernaut’s FTL engines was visible to the terran battle group. The Commander of the Blucher General Sanchez immediately realized that his force was out gunned. He signaled to the terran fleet HQ the situation and waited for orders. He hoped that some terran battle boat was nearby.
Paul saw the Juggernaut come into sensor range and swore out loud to the universe. He never wanted to be a hero and wished he were sitting in his bar raking in the money. Shaking his head, he went to open communications.
“People we are between a rock and a hard place. Our fleet is now aware that we are facing the biggest boat in the sector. We haven’t any real weapons and don’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell of getting away alive if we stay here. Once these guys realize that we are just scout ships they’ll all come shooting for a trophy. I now order you to flare out at full speed back to our people. I’ll keep them busy while you boogie.”
“How are you going to get back Chief?” One of the scouts asked.
“I’m flying right into them. With a little luck, they’ll think a ship exploded, and that I’m a missile that cooked off. I hope that they will scatter to avoid me. I’ll then turn around and beat feet for you guys.”
“We won’t leave you here to die chief!” Another scout shouted over the radio.
“Go! That is an order! Failure to obey an order is a court marshal offense.” Paul replied. He then smiled. “I will insist on posthumous court marshals on anyone who does not head back.”
“What about the bar chief?”
“I’ll open one in hell. Half price on ice water! Now go!”
The four ships did 180 tuns and went to full speed. Paul heading straight for the Juggernaut group went to full speed. The effect was exactly what he wanted. To the Rigillains it looked like a cruiser had just exploded and a missile had cooked off. As he expected their ships all gave him a wide berth. Then Paul turned his ship around and headed back toward his fleet.
Admiral Van was upset that his prize had been lost. Then he noticed the errant missile turning around and four signatures heading away.
“It is a scout party!” He shouted. “Open fire on them!”
Paul feeling a bit of the “what the hells” decided to pass right over the Juggernaut’s stern. He figured that they would think a homing device was working and would duck. Instead, he felt the impact of a plasma explosion round on his ship.
Admiral Van was livid. Not only had he given his position away to the Terrans by igniting his engines. He had done so for a measly modified Missile. Now one of them dared skim his keel. He had had enough.
“I want that ship and its pilot alive so I can kill him myself!” He shouted.
This command meant firing only half charges at the scout and no missiles. Unfortunately, this order did not get to the firing control center and a full charge hit the Paul’s ship in engine compartment.
The smoke and Alarms confused Paul at first. Waving his hands around he hit every button he felt hoping it would launch his cabin as an escape pod. Instead, he hit the Reactor override and a safety override before hitting the right button. His cabin launched ahead of the rest of his ship at just over the maximum speed of his ship. Looking out a forward view port everything went red with the extra speed. He then saw a flash and everything went blue to black.
Expecting to wake up dead or captured Paul was shocked to see a pretty face looking at him.
“Am I in heaven?”
He then saw the guards at his door.
“Maybe I’m in hell.”
The nurse turned toward the guards and said. “Tell the Commander that he’s awake.”
A few minutes later Commander Z entered the room. He was a tall man with a handlebar mustache and dark hair. Paul always thought he looked like a history book nazi. He was notorious around the fleet as the monster with a pen. He’d write up a serviceman or officer for anything from littering to failure to say, “Excuse me” after a burp. It was then that Paul decided he was in hell.
“Chief Bronski,” The commander said in a level voice. “Tell me what made you pull a stunt like that.”
“Flying your ship along the length of the Juggernaut,” the Commander asked.
“Oh, I figured I was going to die so I decided to go out with a bang.” Paul said smiling. He then frowned and asked the commander. “How did you die sir?”
“Die? Mister we are not dead. We are on the Hospital Ship Jackson heading to Terra 3.”
“Then we’re not in hell?”
Commander Z smiled and said. “I don’t know. I believe that we are all in hell and just don’t realize it.”
Paul nodded. “So what happened to me sir?”
Your FTL engine blew along with your Fusion reactor just a few meters from the Juggernaut’s hull. The Rigillains built that ship as a super gun platform. They never expected anyone to get as close as you did so they neglected to armor it. When your ship blew, it split the Juggernaut open and set it into a chain reaction. In a few seconds, a massive explosion devastated the escort fleet. Only a few destroyers and a pair of patrol boats were left.”
“How did I survive?”
“The technicians say the momentum plus explosion sent you at 30 times light right at us.” Smiling he added. “I personally think it was the hand of god protecting an idiot.”
Just a few years later, on the Scout Pilot training facility of Alpha Proxima 4 Paul is teaching a class.
“Recruit what is this thing?”
“A scout ship Chief!”
“This is a ten-meter long tube with a pointed nose and fins. It is three meters in diameter and has a high-speed FTL (Faster than Light) engine with liquid fuel assist. Kid this is a missile. Prior to the perfection of particle weapons we used to launch missiles like this loaded with a dozen fusion bombs onboard at each other. Once the missiles became obsolete, the space service rather than throw them away modified the missile to be a spacecraft. The craft has no real weapons, a low powered plasma gun for defense, and a chaff pod to confuse enemy tracking systems. Thus we are the missile’s warheads and expendable!”
The Chief turned away and walked toward the Instructor’s lounge.
“Was that really him?”
“Yep he’s a bona fide hero!” Nigel said to the group of recruits. “I was there when he crippled the Rigillain main fleet and destroyed their flagship. He won’t talk about it but he ended the war that day. However, if you ask him about his bar, he will tell you all about the place he’s getting when he retires in ten years.”