Chapter 7, part 2
Go Ahead, TACCOM
8 years ago, galactic position 303, 860, planet code named NOVALIS
Num'pol's breath came in ragged gasps as he fought to control his rising anger. Two weeks. Two weeks! Two weeks of waiting after being beaten back by the rebels! Insurgents! With ship designs light-years away from the Vasari models! Num'pol ground his teeth. But soon...soon the rebels would pay. After a brief, yet tense conversation with the Fleet Admiral Commander, Num'pol was granted the use of another three roots of his 2nd branch fleet. It would be enough. With those forces coming in from the phase lane above them, and Num'pol with his forces from NOVALIS coming up from the southern phase lane, it would be enough. "And the Sinners shall bathe in eternal flames," as the saying went. Num'pol growled out loud. He would give them eternal flames.
"Enter phase space on my command!"
The Trader Emergency Coalition
8 years ago, galactic position 303, 835, planet christened "Ruidean" rechristened "Liberty"
A harassed-looking private was sprinting down the corridor towards Major Judman and Crewman Kol. He skidded to a stop right before them, catching his breath.
Then he spoke. "Sir, enemy phase signatures have been detected north and south of our position! They're of Vasari origin!"
Major Judman started. "Go to the command bridge and tell the man on duty, Major Rackham I believe, to beat to general quarters and establish communication links with the other ships. Authorization code 2B7. Tell him I will be there shortly."
As the private ran off again Major Judman turned to Kol. "All right son, it seems I must give you a crash course on the alien menace."
He explained as they hurried down a hallway. "We've been listening in on the alien transmissions coming from the desert planet to the south of us. For some reason, they were speaking English. We don't know why that is, but we accept it. They call themselves the Vasari, and they're here to enslave us, killing millions in the process. Billions."
Judman watched Kol's face harden.
"Exactly. So now while we wait for reinforcements from the home worlds, planets nearer to the front line are establishing ship factories, but we will have to ride out the alien fire-storm that will soon rain down on us. Perhaps this is the start. That places me in a difficult position. Do I split the fleet in half to combat both approaching fleets or will that wipe us out faster? Should I concentrate on one fleet while the other gets free reign to destroy our planet, the only holding we have in this system?"
Judman shook his head and laughed. "Well, thank the stars you don't have to worry about anything like that. You said you felt fit enough for active duty again?"
He waited for Kol's nod before continuing. "Good. Then get yourself down to the hangar bays. You're the strike leader for fighter squad 2."
He watched carefully as surprise registered on Kol's face. "You do remember your duties?"
Kol hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, sir."
Judman pressed. "Are your sure? The duties of the strike leader? Clearly?"
"Very well, Kol, you're dismissed. Report immediately to the hangar bays."
"Very good, sir."
Kol trotted off around the corner down the hallway that intersected the last. Strike leader...Kol hadn't the foggiest idea what that entailed. He racked his battered memory for assistance, but nothing came up. He had a sneaking suspicion that he was not the Kol that most people remembered him as. He didn't recognize the friends that Kol had appeared to have, and they quickly withdrew from him, surprised at the difference in the man. He knew none of the duties that were expected of him, yet somehow managed to accomplish them while no one was about. And he had nightmares. Being the ancient pre-colonial space Egyptian buff that he was, it might be only natural for Kol to dream about the ancient Egyptian gods, but he doubted it. Half-dog, half-man beasts chased him through the caverns of his mind, sometimes calling out to him, sometimes growling. They had a man's body, and the head of a jackal.
Kol shivered and shook his head to clear his mind. This talk of dreams and Egyptian demons was silly. He had much more to fear from the much more imminent threat of the Vasari. He rolled the word around on his tongue. Even the name they gave themselves made one think of cruelty and suffering.
Kol reached the hangar bays and entered node 2, what the crewmen called the "sweat lodge." Always kept at 100 degrees Orkanheit, the sweat lodge was where the fighter pilots prepared to enter their ships. The heat of the room filtered into their bones, heating their bodies and remaining with them for a surprisingly long period of time. It served no purpose if one's fighter held to it's normal temperatures, but fighters undergo heavy fire as a rule, and the heat the sweat lodge gave these men might save their lives if the coldness of space entered their small crafts. Of course, it wouldn't help much if they had to evacuate into space, but these men took every precaution they could grab. Kol followed the other men as the sweat lodge door clicked shut, and a few minutes later, once the heat had time to enter their bones, a light on the opposite wall turned green and a door underneath slid open.
The fighter crews were an unruly lot. Laughing roughly with each other, they joked and jostled their way into the hangar bay, Kol trailing behind them. Some gave him odd looks, as if unsure of his right to be there, but Kol ignored them and they soon followed suit. Even as Kol knew as deep in his bones as the seat lodge's heat resided that he had never taken a step into this cavern of a room, he automatically knew what to do. He grabbed a headset off the rack on a wall, walked over to one of the fighters, and pressed a series of numbers on the keypad lock which opened the cockpit with a hiss. Kol instinctively knew that his ship was an AC-47, what the fighter crews called the fighter. Although they were just in general called "fighter crews," there were in fact two different ships in the hangar, fighters and bombers. The fighter crews, who deeply resented the military's lack of concern over the matter, called the fighters AC's, short for AC-47, and the bombers AD's, short for AD-180. Kol slipped into the cockpit of his AC and flicked his headset to TACCOM 1, one of the most heavily encrypted radio channels in the entire TEC military.
"Come in, TACCOM, over," Kol spoke into the mouthpiece.
"We have you, strike leader, state your name and squad." A cool female voice echoed over the channel.
"Crewman Alexander J. Kol, strike leader of the Provian's fighter 2."
"Received, strike leader, contacting member aboard the Provian's for confirmation..."
This Kol had never understood---although the thought came to him that he was sure he had never been a fighter pilot, so why had this never been understood when he had never had the need to know it? Stars in the sky, maybe he was crazy like some in the fighter crew obviously thought he was---Kol had never understood why TACCOM, short for the Trader Aerial Command Center for Outer Sector Mobilizations, needed the strike leader to establish a connection to their hidden base, somewhere in the inner home worlds, deep inside an asteroid belt, just so they could confirm the strike leader's orders with the TACCOM representative on the strike leader's very ship. It made no sense! Why not just contact the TACCOM representative and skip the middle man? But who was he to question the army? There was a saying that there had never really been politics before the military. True politics, anyway. The dark alleys and blustering confusion often found in politics was hardly anything one would expect from the military, yet there the saying said it had been born, and who was Kol to question a legendary Earth-bound saying?
"This is TACCOM, you are given permission to launch squad 2 from the Provian's hangar one."
Kol shook his head in exasperation. He would never understand the military, not before he was old and gray.
"Understood TACCOM, standing by for flight path directives."
Now Kol waited again while any latecomers in his squad entered their respective ships and TACCOM established a secure, private link to the TACCOM representative on his ship. Why he couldn't just begin with talking to the representative...Kol shook his head. He would never understand.
"Strike leader, this is TACCOM." A different voice, a heavy masculine one, notified Kol that he was now connected to the TACCOM representative on the command bridge.
"Go ahead, TACCOM."
"You will take off in 1 minute, escorting and protecting squad 1 as they make their way to the enemy's capital ships. As soon as all enemy strike craft are eliminated, you are given permission to fire upon enemy ships as you see fit."
"Understood, TACCOM." Squad 1. That was the bomber squad. Fortunately, squads 1 and 2 both launched from hangar one, so Kol would immediately be able to concentrate on the enemy strike craft instead of worrying on connecting up with squad 1.
"Launch in 3."
Kol gulped, the dryness of his tongue unusually pronounced. Why was he thinking about his tongue?
"Launch in 2."
Kol was sure he had never flown a fighter before. Sure as day is light and night is dark. And yet...and yet Kol knew he could do this. He could direct his squad, the other fighters. He could assess the assortment of enemy craft and deliver concise orders concerning their "removal," as the military politely called it. He could do all those things. He just knew he had never done it from inside a cockpit.
There was a roar as the hangar bay doors whirled apart, and Kol gunned his engine. He soared out across the dank emptiness of space, and above him blue lights flashed and twinkled as the alien fleet phased in.