Chapter 7, part 3
A Legend is Born
The Trader Emergency Coalition
8 years ago, galactic position 305, 835, planet christened "Liberty"
"Sixty seconds till launch."
Kol shivered and cursed himself and shivered again. Stars forsaken, he was shaking himself out of his boots! But he was so frightened! Inching lower in the cockpit, he tried to ignore the accusing gazes of the pilots in the other fighters. But he could feel them, an immense hostile force surrounding him from every side. At first, when Kol had first entered the hangar, he had been frightened, but he had soon found he knew what to do and where to go, and his fear had slowly faded away. Then he had left the hangar....Kol's breath came in gasps as he tried to regulate his breathing. That had been stark terror.
It seemed his memory stopped at the bay doors. Once in space, the knobs and dials that surrounded Kol swam, his vision distorted. He couldn't find the brake, and went zooming off among the asteroids. Worst of all, perhaps, he didn't know the button to activate the fighter-to-fighter radio. Only the stars knew how he had managed to land the fighter later, his shaking hands alone should have made the feat impossible, but he had done it. Barely. And as the command bridge detected a second wave of enemy ships phasing towards Liberty immediately after the first one was pushed back, none of the pilots could leave their ships. This was both a gift and a curse. None of the pilots could reach Kol and strangle him, as he knew they surely wanted to, but neither could Kol exit the fighter and save his life from an ugly space crash, as was even more likely.
"10 till launch."
Kol gulped, sweat streaming down his face. He couldn't do this.
Heavenly stars he was going to die. He couldn't die, not yet, He couldn't do this, he had to get out!
Where had the time gone? What had happened to five and four? He had to get out! Franticly Kol clawed at the cockpit's retractable glass cover, but it was firmly locked. He had to get out!
The fighters fired up and in single-file streamed out of the hangar. This much was autopilot, to avoid collisions inside the hangar. There was a short beep as Kol cleared the bay doors, and the autopilot flicked off. Kol's fighter immediately careened off to the right towards another fighter, and it was only the skill of the pilot in the other ship that the two did not crash. Scrambling for the controls, Kol grabbed the joystick and yanked forward, forcing the fighter into a downward spiral. He could fly the star-struck thing, that he could do, but anything else was out of his league. Including the light-forsaken brake! He could fly the ship, but when it came to tight corners and quick maneuvers, Kol knew he wouldn't be able to survive. All he could control was what direction his fighter blew up in. But he would control that.
Kol jabbed at the joystick again and the fighter swooped upward and climbed. The Vasari's ships had already phased out, and had just started to gun their engines in the direction of the Trader fleet. Kol gunned his.
A stream of red streaks leaving the enemy's capital ship was the only warning he had that enemy fighters were incoming. He had no idea how to activate the star-struck audio alerts.
Grunting, Kol leaned sharply on the joystick, and uncapped the red trigger on its side with a flick. This part he knew how to do, at least. As he approached the battle and his fighter started automatically tracking the nearest enemies, thank the stars, Kol felt his fear receding, like a physical animal retreating into its lair. Not gone exactly, but contained. The targeting computers locked on to the nearest enemy fighter with a loud constant ring, and Kol squeezed the trigger. Bright bubble-looking bullets exploded from his frontal guns, speeding towards the enemy craft so fast they elongated into more bullet-like forms before they hit. Three of the four shots hit the enemy's hull. The fourth sped right past, narrowly clipping an overhanging asteroid. The computers weren't perfect, not by a long degree. There were just too many constantly changing variables to perfectly target a hostile. But that was hardly the most pressing issue at the moment. As soon as his shots were fired, Kol flipped the joystick and tried to make his fighter go into a curve, but the gravitational pull from the planet disrupted his maneuver, forcing him to take a long, leisurely curve instead of the quick, sharp one he had been trying to perform. The onboard computers wouldn't let him take a sharper turn. The g-force alone would rip his body apart. Obviously, there was much more to this flying thing than engines and boosters.
Kol had sped by the enemy fighter too fast for it to get a secure lock, but it fired anyway, and a couple shots managed to skip across Kol's fighter. The other pilots had named their respective ships, names that fit in with their call signs, but Kol knew he would never have that luxury. If he managed to find his way back to the hangar, he would surely be locked up for years for endangering the lives of his fellow soldiers. If he managed to get back.
A flashing button on the ceiling of the ship caught Kol's attention. Half watching the space in front of his ship, half watching the button, he extended a hand, and then faltered. How stupid was he? Did he actually think he was about to press a random button he knew nothing about? For all he knew, it was the self-destruct! Kol glanced back up at the blinking yellow button. He pushed it.
Suddenly the lights dimmed, and his fighter slowed. Kol looked frantically at the rearview screens across his flank. His engines were shutting down! Frantically he looked ahead, and wished he hadn't. Swirling toward him in its calm, unhurried gate was one of the crystal asteroids that orbited Liberty. It was enormous, and it was headed right for Kol's ship. Kol beat on the yellow button in a frenzy, but it seemed to have only that one action. Who in the planets was idiotic enough to put a DAMNED SHUT-OFF BUTTON IN HIS STAR-FORSAKEN FIGHTER?!?! Kol thought furiously. He looked forward again at the incoming asteroid. A few more minutes, and it would slam into him. Kol took the thought calmly, for all of his worrying in the hangar about being killed. He had read somewhere that men acted differently in the face of death. Some broke down and begged for the stars to save them, some took the inevitable calmly, and others panicked and often ended up doing more harm then their one death would have caused. Kol figured he was the second one. A stilling peace had descended over him, his breath was calm for the first time in what had been hours. Just one more minute now, Kol thought, and then I'll be free...
Suddenly the lights turned back on and the ship rumbled as the engines restarted. The computers went through a rapid warm-up, and then a message flashed across his screen.
Dissembling auto-ray charged. Fire ready. Searching for nearest enemy contact...
Kol dazed stupidly as the message scrolled across his screen. Then with a yell he jerked on the joystick and the fighter shot over the asteroid, sending off sparks where it grazed the refinery that harvested its minerals. Then the computer's message changed.
Nearest enemy contact found. Targeting...targeted. Activate auto-pilot? Hold trigger for confirmation. Option will cancel in five seconds.
There were three seconds left when Kol finished the message, and another two were spent processing the idea. Then with an incredulous expression on his face as if he couldn't believe what was happening, Kol pressed and held the trigger. Instead of firing, a black box appeared on his view screen and thin green lines started making their way towards the box. Another five seconds later it was done. Kol leaned back as the autopilot took control. He assumed the black box was an enemy ship, but he had no idea what the dissembling auto-ray was. He racked his damaged memory, but it didn't seem to remember either.
Suddenly Kol was free of the asteroids, and in front of him lay the bulk of the enemy's fleet. It had lessened some, but so had the TEC's, which Kol saw was further to the left. The black box was straight in front of him now, but there were a cluster of ships and Kol didn't know which one the computer had tracked. He didn't seem to see any enemy strike craft either, which was more odd. What in the star's patterns was he about to attack?
The enemy ships surged forward as they renewed the assault on the TEC ships, and Kol found the target of the black box. It was the enemy's capital ship, bristling with point defense systems. Kol grabbed at the joystick, straining with all his might, but the fighter would not respond. It zoomed straight towards the immense, hulking ship. Little points of light blossomed on the hull of the capital ship, and streaks of light flew past the fighter as the enemy ship's computers began tracking his fighter. It surged forward regardless.