breathing in a vacuum
part six

      "I'll never get these guys ready," Dan whined to his room. He was tired, incredibly tired, tired down to his bones. Over the course of the last two days he managed to get six hours of sleep, set up so that no more than thirty minutes at a time was spent sleeping. Drilling, simulating, practicing. Each one had a specific 24 hour period for Able and Bravo groups alike. Unfortunately, Dan had to watch both groups.
      The first day so many things went wrong it was almost laughable. The launch system had screwed up, tangling the massive support beams and nearly spilling Shrike 1 and 3 onto the rest of the flight group. Shrike 4 spent the first half of the training flight at half power due to equipment failure. The wing-mate groupings were scrapped and new ones put together every hour.
      The second day had been the worst. After the debacle on the flight deck Dan sent Able back to the simulators to train, while working on Bravo. Bravo's first attempt at launch had been comical. The new equipment, though field-tested, had never been used all at once. A faulty insulator fried Shrike 8's navigation computer, resulting in a state of the art star fighter that tumbled uselessly for half an hour.
      The third day, Dan managed to get both Able and Bravo into space, in one piece. The machines worked perfectly and the wing-mate situation had stabilized. To Dan's relief, the skirmishes he had planned on scrapping went off without a hitch. And so after six hours of dog-fighting and training, Dan was finally about to go to sleep.
      Dan sat down idly at his keyboard, deciding if he wanted to write Sakura or not. A power surge had wiped his computer at some point during the Three Days of Hell and now had no idea what Sakura's message had contained.
      More than anything Dan wanted to talk to her. Email really didn't cut it for this kind of conversation, one that required vocal contact at least. He remembered Sakura helping him during the first couple of weeks of Command School, when he had felt the worse about being railroaded into command.
      Now he was a commander of sorts. It felt good, he admitted, shutting down his computer and turning off the light. His habit of changing in the dark stemmed from the time he and his mother spent in other's houses after his father had died and the bank closed. They stayed at friends' houses for almost a year until his mother found work.
      Now it was old habit for him to strip in the dark and walk to his bed without trouble. As he laid down in bed he felt the deep fatigue that gripped him slip away. Not the physical fatigue; his body would need ten or more hours of sleep before he would be back to normal. But his mind wasn't tired.
      Dan forced his eyes shut, and tried to soothe his mind. It didn't work too well, but he eventually fell into a shallow, restless slumber. His dreams drifted disjointedly from place to place. They settled on a scene he wouldn't forget for a long time.
      The Orbital Ring was burning under heavy fire from the battle pods. From Dan's vantage point, floating in space some distance from the Ring, he saw a single Valkyrie tumble through the vacuum, portions of its hull burning as laser fire bombarded it. A pair of pods swept in low, their weapon mounts blazing, but the Valkyrie managed to dodge any more serious harm. In a feat of piloting that Dan was vaguely envious of, the crippled ship managed to destroy the two 'pods with burst from the chain gun. Amidst the wreckage, the Valkyrie finally died, the pilot barely managing to eject.
      The pilot's body, limp in its spacesuit, tumbled towards Dan. Please don't be Sakura, Dan thought, filled by an irrational fear of seeing her body limp and dead before him. He could barely make out the lettering on the suit's front. Wesley C. Winters.
      Dan woke with a start. A glance at his chronometer told him he'd been asleep for almost 8 hours. He felt strangely good. He glanced over at the computer, the dream still vivid in his mind. Dan stood and turned the terminal on, a familiar feeling filling him as he followed the hunch in his dream.
      Other dreams had helped him solve some of the mysteries in his life. They were never psychic, but rather his subconscious mind puzzling problems that the conscious couldn't. Sometime Dan never realized the problem faced him until a disturbing dream brought the answer out. He dug up the personnel files on Lieutenant Winters, searching for the description of the Orbital Ring Engagement.
      He read the debriefing of one Lieutenant Winters, fascinated at the differences between his dream and reality. Winters hadn't been alone; he'd been flying with his wing-mate, Sarah Anderson. Anderson never made it back. Winters' injuries had been so severe he'd been shipped in stasis to the Medical platform orbiting the moon. Dan tried to imagine what it would be like to lose Sakura, but couldn't wrap his mind around the concept.

      Deep among the rocks tumbling chaotically in orbit around Jupiter, the Zentradi force moved into place. A pair of light warships nestled behind one of Jupiter's pseudo-moons while two dozen battle pods used the streaming magnetic field between the gas giant and it's moon Io to cover their presence. Two commander's pods took up station in the vestigial ring that idled peacefully with a single custom suit of battle armor overlooking the whole operation.
      Less than a half light second away was their target, which showed up on their sensors as a modified Bulk Freighter registered as the Damocles. A target that until shortly had been surrounded by up to a dozen smaller, much stealthier craft. The Zentradi fleet had no idea what was aboard the isolated ship, only that it was a scouting force for their hated oppressor, Earth.

      In the upper atmosphere of Uranus something moved. It was a large vessel, unlike anything in the solar system. In fact, ships of this sort had never reached into this portion of the galaxy before. Among the ammonia vapors and trace pockets of carbon, the vessel leached the necessary elements to repair and refurbish itself from its long trek through space.
      The ship extended a network of hair thin fibers, more than a hundred kilometers on a side as it spun around Uranus, using the sensitive material to locate the prize it had been searching for since its creation. It would be years before the Invid scout ship would locate the dense concentration of Protoculture that marked the location of the Matrix, but in the first week of its operation it located a much smaller reading, with the characteristics it associated with the enemy.
      The scout ship continued to leach raw materials from the gas giant, with a new purpose. It would synthesize enough forces to deal with this concentration of Zentradi Protoculture. In the mean time it would continue taking its readings. If the ship's brain found any traces of the Matrix then it would send word to its mother.

      "We've got hostile targets, vectoring in from Io's magnetosphere!" reported the sensor tech as Jonah swiveled his chair to face him. "Look like battle pods, maybe a dozen and a half."
      "Shrike 2 and 7 are in revolver," Lt. Winters reported, using the slang term for the ready launch position. "Shall I launch them?"
      Jonah turned to face the main tactical screen, considering a moment. Small groups of battle pods did still roam the space lanes, using piracy to support themselves. And the Damocles was, for their purposes, a bulk freighter.
      "Hold off on launching the fighters. Get the rest of the group ready to go, though. Ensign Lewis?"
      "Sir?" the communications officer asked.
      "Contact the attacking pods. Do your best 'I'm just a freighter' impersonation."
      "Yes sir."
      "Gunnery!" the captain called out, forgetting the young woman's name for the moment. "Get ready to deploy the defense turrets, but don't let them pick up any weapons emissions."
      "Roger." The woman began furiously working on her controls. By the time she hit her last button, the Damocles would be a warship in a freighter's clothing, ready to deploy her hidden weapons turrets at the command of her crew.
      In the fighter bay there was no chaos. Six days of preparation had paid off in spades, Dan thought as he watched his men climb into their Shrikes. Nothing went wrong as the techs checked measurements and fine tuned occasional pieces of equipment.
      "Gentlemen," Dan said over the Able and Beta channels, "lets keep it tight and make no mistakes. Everyone okay with that?"
      "Yes, sir!" came the various replies.
      "Okay. There's around two of them for each of us, so I expect some kill markers next to your names when we come back."

Copyright reserved 1999 Jerico Mele []

Disclaimer: Robotech is Copyright 1985 Harmony Gold, U.S.A, Inc./Tatsunoko Prod. Cp., Ltd. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended.

back   index   more fics   sailormoon   next