ALTERNATE TALES OF THE STAR FORCE
STAR BLAZERS-TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
By: Frederick P. Kopetz
ACT FOUR---TAKING OFF
I. THE STAR FORCE REUNITES
Thursday January 7, 2202
1759 Hours: Spacetime
As the Argo's takeoff date grew ever closer, the old and new members of the Star Force, as per their orders, began to report for duty in the Megalopolis.
One important ritual that Wildstar had scheduled for this evening was a meeting of the old and new crew at Heroes' Hill, located near the coastline, for the purpose of remembering those who had so gallantly sacrificed their lives during the last mission.
One of the first whom Wildstar noticed arriving happened to be Kyle Grant, who arrived accompanied by Keesha Grant. While Wildstar and Grant caught up on what had happened to him in the past few months, Keesha turned to Nova and looked over at Hartcliffe.
"He's really going on the mission with you?" asked Mrs. Grant.
"Unfortunately, yes," said Nova in a whisper while Hartcliffe seemed occupied. "At least with his wife at his side, he shouldn't be able to bother anyone else. At least we hope not."
"Oh?" said Keesha. "Ma'am, with all respect, you're naive. Did you hear about that party at Conroy's?"
"What about it?"
"There, our outstanding Mister Hartcliffe decided to accost me. Nice man, isn't he?"
"I'm so sorry to hear that," said Nova quietly. "Really. And thanks for the warning."
"You're welcome," said Grant as Doctor Sane and Captain Wildstar came up to the front of the group.
Doctor Sane, beside Wildstar, snapped "All hands, attention!"
All of the Star Force members present quieted down and snapped to. At that, Wildstar said, while looking up at the statue, "Captain Avatar, we have completed our task and have defended Earth yet again. Without your example, and the sacrifices of those that we come here to remember today, we would not have prevailed against our new enemy, the Comet Empire. We come here today to honor those who are now honored here beside you. We come here to remember Sergeant Major Knox, Corporal Kane, and their brave comrades who died in the Comet Empire citadel, along with Lieutenants Bainbridge and Heath from the Black Tigers, who died when helping to defend the ship from the Gamilons for the last time, as well as Ensign Muller, and Ensigns Migdal, Carrollton, and Brooks, who died defending their planes in the Comet Empire citadel, along with many others. Captain, many crewmembers have joined you here in memory. Be assured we will never forget them! We honor them, you, and the rest of the members of the Star Force who have gone on ahead of us. All hands...salute."
At that, all of the members of the Star Force, both veterans and new members, brought their fists up to their chests in salute. After standing in silence for a moment, they brought down their fists and stood in silence.
This was an even more serious observance than other observances here at Heroes' Hill had been. The new members of the Star Force knew that they were now part of the legend, and, as such, they would have quite a legacy to live up to, while the veterans looked up at Avatar's statue, well aware of the fact that if hostilities with the new Cometine force continued, they might never return to Earth, and could well join those memorialized here.
It was quite a solemn moment for all involved.
Later on that evening, after some restrained pleasantries on Heroes' Hill, Wildstar gave some crew members permission to arrive back on the ship a little later than some of the others, so that they could visit their quarters on the base to get the last of their things and close up their quarters. Two of those crewmembers happened to be Eager and Buzz, who went together to the BOQ complex.
"Well," said Eager. "We're winding it up now."
"Yeah," said Buzz. "You know I'll just be aboard the ship for a little while. I'll be back here later since we're flying to the ship tomorrow morning," said Buzz as he drove along in the aircar they had requisitioned.
"Ah thought they brought some of the boats and planes aboard already," said Eager.
"Just the usual ship's boats and the Marine Group boats, the Captain's gig, and the special recon-pod equipped astrofighters assigned to Sandor and Nova," said Buzz.
"Ain't much," said Eager.
"Yeah....but you know it's more economical to fly most of the astrofighters onto the ship from the fighter base. Conroy'll be leading us out in the morning."
"Hey...." said Eager, as he looked back and looked up as they drove through the Megalopolis towards Idlewild Base. "...what's that?"
"What's what?" asked Buzz as he glanced into his rearview mirror, and saw something roaring up from the base. "Just a plane taking off..."
"But what's that light off in the distance?" asked Eager.
Buzz looked in his mirror again and saw another plane taking off. "Must be a training flight or something...I guess...it's... HOLY MOLEY!" he said as he noticed a flash in the distance. "What's going on?" he asked as he pulled over to the side of the road and popped the bubbletop on the aircar.
Eager stuck his head out, curious at the sound of sirens off in the distance. "That's no drill," he said. "Shoot...we're under attack!"
Buzz had just enough time to spot the silhouette of the diving Cometine Scorpion before it began to fire. "Eager, hit the dirt!" he yelled.
Eager did so, and then all he heard was the hissing roar of several laser bolts hitting before a massive explosion went off and he heard and saw no more.
II. ANOTHER ATTACK RUN
January 7, 2202
Over Idlewild Space Naval Station
2015 Hours: Spacetime
"That s.o.b.!" snapped Conroy as he swung his head around in the cockpit of his Tiger. "He just hit the road down there! Well, he's not gonna have a chance to report back to his superiors about this," hissed Conroy as he got a bead on the Cometine attack boat in his gunsight.
He squeezed the trigger and pumped laser fire into the enemy. A moment later, a fireball went up over the beach and burning wreckage fell into the ocean off the base.
"Hardy, you got up off the ground there?" asked Conroy.
"Yeah, I did," said Hardy. "Where the heck are they comin' from?"
"Dunno...they just plunged in and started shooting," snapped Conroy.
A moment later, four more Tigers roared up to meet Conroy and Hardy. Only two of them had Black Tiger markings, though. One of the others had maroon ground-based markings, while another one of the planes had the gold-on-blue colors of an astrofighter assigned to another one of the ships of the Fleet.
"Okay if we join this party, sir?" asked Laurel Hartmann from her Cosmo Tiger.
"You ah most welcome, right now, Miss Hartmann," said Hardy.
"Thanks. Brandybuck, you take Conroy's right," said Hartmann. "Earnest...Maruyama, you two get on the port sides of Conroy and Hardy and help us form up some flights here. Then, we're going up to chase those green boys right back to wherever they came from."
"Roger that," snapped Earnest, who was flying the ground-based Tiger
"Aye, aye, ma'am," said Maruyama, who was in the spare Fleet plane.
Before long, the two flights were met by two other ragged flights, and the squadron broke off under Conroy's and Hardy's command in two different directions. Conroy's group went after the retreating Cometines who were heading back up to escape, while Hardy's group plunged back down towards the base to defend it from a second wave of Scorpions roaring in towards the base and the city.
"This is ground control," said a voice in Conroy's headphones. "What's going on up there?"
"Four of those bogies are making a run for it. I've got some help up here...I'm gonna make sure they don't get back, and try to see where they're coming from."
"You're go on the first thing, but negative on the second," said Ground Control. "Why's that?," said Conroy.
"We'll need you back down by the base, and, besides, the South Carolina was out on trials tonight with two cruisers in high Earth orbit. She'll make sure that the ship from where those bandits came from is taken care of."
"Whose orders are these?"
"General Stone's," said Ground Control. "We're in touch with the duty unit in Headquarters right now. They just went on alert."
"All right," said Conroy in a challenging tone. "I'll go with those orders, but if I somehow see that carrier before our ships do, don't count on me sitting down and doing nothing."
"We wouldn't ask you to do that, sir...we just want you to follow your orders," said Ground Control.
Conroy nodded, but he thought, If Wildstar calls me, his orders take precedence over Stone's. Where is he, anyway?
At that moment, Wildstar was in his quarters on the Argo.
He was standing near the cabin's port side, right across from the area where his bunk/pull-down desk sat near the huge bookcase. On that side of the cabin, there was a good-sized storage locker for the Captain's uniforms and personal items. One of the cabin's new additions was a small folding table and three chairs that could be stowed away in a special locker out in the entrance foyer of the stateroom. Wildstar placed his suitcase up on the table, which was set up on the port side of the cabin, and he opened it and rooted through his uniforms and things.
He went over to his desk to check off a few forms. As he did so, he noticed a pile of paperwork that his runner had obviously left him before, and he groaned to himself. Not MORE paperwork. Darn! He glanced at it, shook his head, and sat down at the desk to begin looking over his paperwork.
After looking over the routine paperwork, Wildstar walked back over to his cabin's storage locker, which had just been enlarged in the Argo's most recent refit.
Hmmm, he thought as he picked up his peacoat from the pile of things on the table. There's plenty of room for my things in here, especially on the port side of the locker. With that experimental program, Nova's stuff is here, on the starboard side...
Wildstar looked through his wife's uniforms, just slightly bemused when he discovered, in order, four two-piece Living Group uniforms on hangers, four Medical tunics, a long pink dress, a white dress trimmed in pink, and a short bath kimono. He ignored the storage drawers, and looked on the floor of the upper part of the locker, above the drawers. He found, placed neatly in formation, two spare pairs of female Living Group uniform boots in yellow, two pairs of Medical boots, a pair of pink pumps, and a pair of white sandals. Finally, there was a guitar case against the wall of the locker.
Nova! he groaned to himself. Boy, you sure brought enough...good thing Sandor enlarged this locker...
Almost as if on cue, the main cabin hatch was undogged from the outside and Nova just stepped in, without tapping or requesting permission to enter.
"Hello, Derek," sighed Nova as she came in.
"I see you're moved in already...you sure brought enough," said Derek.
"Yes. And, what's more, the events of this day, Parmon included, have given me a tremendous headache."
"Parmon?", said Wildstar. "Oh...that's right. That idiot. I hope he's mellowed out a little since he gave so many of us headaches in the past."
"Judging from what Eager and Homer told me, that's not the case," said Nova. "They both had the misfortune of serving with him on other ships, and even though they say he's a good officer now, he's not the nicest person in the personal department; and he's still just as prejudiced as he was years ago."
"When did Homer and Eager know him?"
"Eager knows him from the time he was on the space frigate Hannibal between September 2200 and March 2201. Homer was with him on the battleship New Zealand on a TDY right after our wedding last year during her refit trials. Based on what Homer told me, Parmon liked to pick on another officer under his command known as Rabinowitz when he was on another ship, and he picked on Homer and Rabinowitz on the New Zealand. I think you can guess why. I also heard from Homer that on the TDY, when Rabinowitz invited some friends to a private Chanukah service, Parmon almost started a fight with a one of them...but it didn't go beyond words, luckily."
"How did Homer know about this?"
"He was one of the friends Rabinowitz invited, of course."
"Right: I forgot about that. How did they select Parmon, anyhow?"
"In spite of everything, Derek, he's a Lieutenant now and he has a good service record, aside from his scrapes during his earlier days. We'll just have to be on our toes with him; that's all."
"He said something about wanting to "talk" to me later on, Derek. I'm not sure I cared much for the sound of it, if you know what I mean," said Nova as she yawned and stepped towards a control panel. She flicked a switch, and the metal protective screen began to roll down outside, covering the massive curving viewport that made up much of the forward portion of the stateroom.
Nova made sure the hatch was locked, and then she walked over to the locker.
"What are you doing?," he asked.
"Getting ready to take a shower and turn in," Nova said as she unzipped her uniform. "It's almost 2300. Going to finish putting your things away? The port side of the locker is yours because you need more room than I do."
"Why did you bring two dresses and all those shoes?"
"So I'd have a choice of outfits if I have to put a dress on," said Nova as she stepped out of her uniform. "Why are you staring?"
"Whoa! You still have that all-over tan from the island. It looks great on you," whispered Derek.
"Thanks," said Nova as she began to blush a little as she reached into the locker for her robe.
Wildstar was smiling as she pulled her kimono off the hanger and began to slip into it. Nova noticed his little grin as she began to close her robe and asked, "What's up?"
"You're blushing again. This time, it's right down to your belly button."
"Stop staring!," yelped Nova as she clouted Derek over the head with one of her surfer thongs.
"Ouch!" he yelled. "That was mean!"
Nova just laughed at him. "Derek, I think you'll need to go in and take your shower after me."
"And, I think you'll need a cold one, Captain," she said with a little smile as she kicked her shower shoe on and grabbed up a towel. "See you later."
A while later, after the cabin was cleaned up, Wildstar climbed into the bunk beside Nova, who was half-asleep in a white mid-length nightdress. In spite of her exhaustion, she still had a hug for him when he crawled in.
"You look tired," she whispered.
"Like me to be honest? I am," replied Derek.
"Just like me. I hope we can get to sleep."
Derek nodded his head. "Cute nightie," he muttered, looking at her short nightgown.
"Thanks. I needed it tonight because I just felt chilly," murmured Nova as she cuddled up against Derek's bare chest. "Half the time, it always gets chilly on this ship when you try to sleep. The other half of the time, it's too hot."
"Do I help a little?"
"Yes," whispered Nova. "On a night when I'm in the mood, I won't...need it..."
"Sure...but what about that really naughty thing I saw in the bottom drawer?"
"That's for really special nights like your birthday," she murmured. "Provided, of course, we don't fall under attack that night."
At that, the interphone went off.
"Hello, Captain Wildstar speaking," said Wildstar.
"This is Homer," said the voice at the other end.
"May I ask you what's up?" snapped Wildstar. "I was about to turn in..."
"We just got a message from Conroy. The Cometines have come back."
"What?" snapped Wildstar. At that, Nova sat up in the bunk.
"There was an attack in the Megalopolis. They went after Idlewild Base, and some of the Black Tigers fought them off. They aren't sure if there's going to be a second wave or not."
"I see," said Wildstar. "Well, I'll be right down. I've got to try to contact Conroy."
"Okay," said Homer. "I'll let him know."
Wildstar hung up, groaned to himself, and got up. "What's wrong?" asked Nova.
"Cometines," he said as he began to pull his uniform on. "They hit the base."
"Cometines?" cried Nova. "I'll be right down...."
January 7, 2202
First Bridge, Space Battleship Argo
2342 Hours, Spacetime
On the first bridge of the Argo, even at that late hour, there was still plenty of activity as Wildstar arrived on the bridge.
"How is it going, Mark?" he demanded as he ran up to Venture.
"Not good," said Venture as he and Dash stood next to Homer's station. "Conroy and Hardy are still taking care of the last remnants of the enemy forces."
"Conroy?" demanded Wildstar. "Homer, reach him. Where the hell is he?"
"This is Conroy," snapped the leader of the Black Tigers from his cockpit a moment later. "We just took care of the last few of the stragglers over the base. Permission to pursue the rest of them to their mothership?"
"Go for it," said Wildstar as another transmission came in. "Yes?"
"Wildstar, this is Doctor Sane."
"How come you're not on the ship?" he demanded as Nova ran out of the lift onto the bridge.
"I'm afraid that...well...I was straggling a little on the way back from Heroes' Hill..."
"Are you all right?" asked Nova.
"Well...I am, but Eager, Buzz, Kato and Ryder aren't," he said.
"What happened?" demanded Wildstar. "And where are you?"
"I'm at Central Hospital," said Dr. Sane. "I was summoned here after IQ-9 received a transmission. It seems that Eager and Buzz were strafed near the airbase...they were pretty messed up, but they'll make it, even though they're going to be down for at least a few weeks..."
But they can't come with us now, thought Wildstar morosely. "I see. What about Kato and Ryder?"
"They were hit while visiting friends at the airbase. We think Kato will make it...but we're not sure about Ryder," said Sane.
"I see. What about the others?"
"No other major crew members were injured...although we lost about ten or so enlisted men. I also heard that we lost a few Black Tigers in combat."
"I see... Doctor Sane," said Wildstar. "Get back to the ship ASAP. We'll need you on board for the liftoff in just a few hours."
"You can count on me, Wildstar," said Sane before cutting off.
"Wildstar, this is Conroy," said Conroy as he came up again.
"Did you find them?" asked Wildstar.
"We traced them to their carrier, but just as they landed, before we could attack their carrier, they warped out and got away," said Conroy angrily. "Nothing else is around now."
"OK...get back to base," said Wildstar. "We'll need you on the ship ASAP tomorrow morning. Did you take any losses?"
"We lost about five or six guys in this."
"Well, get them replaced ASAP from the replacement pool," sighed Wildstar. "Let the people at the base know that the reassignments are needed on an emergency basis."
"Right," said Conroy.
"Wildstar," said Homer. "The Commander's on the main link!"
"Put him through on the main screen, Homer."
A moment later, Commanding General Singleton came through on the main screen.
"Wildstar, I heard that the Black Tigers were involved in a battle."
"Yessir, they were...and we took some losses."
"How bad was it?"
"Bad," said Wildstar. "We lost several pilots...and we also lost some of our regular crewmembers, including Lieutenant Eager, Lieutenant Kato, and Lieutenant Ryder."
"No. Eager and Kato will probably make it. Ryder...may not."
"Hmm..." said Singleton. "This is bad. But, nothing can delay your launch in the morning, Wildstar. We can give you replacements for the pilots from the pool...but they'll be inexperienced in comparison to the men and women you lost. We can replace the enlisted men, too. As for the officers you lost...you'll have to promote men and women to replace them from within the ranks of the Star Force, Wildstar."
"I...think I can do that," said Wildstar. "I have a few people in mind..."
"I see," said Singleton. "Good luck, Captain."
Wildstar saluted as Singleton cut off.
"Homer," said Wildstar. "I want the following crewmembers in my quarters, and ASAP...."
About forty-five minutes later, Junior Lieutenant Holly Parsons, roused from sleep, waited at the hatchway before Wildstar's quarters along with Black Tiger Laurel Hartmann, Ensign Ryusuke Ito, who was a squad leader in the Star Force Troopers, and Ensign Carl Chafer, who was a Navigation Group officer who had just boarded the ship.
"I wonder what we did?" muttered Ito as he stood facing the hatch. "We were told to come up here and wait for the Captain."
"I couldn't have done much of anything...I was sleeping at the base before they called me here," yawned Hartmann.
"I got caught," said Chafer.
"Why?" asked Ito.
"They must've found out about that poker game," said Chafer irritably.
"Were you winning?" asked Parsons.
"Well, it's an even worse tragedy, then," said Ito.
"Shhhh..." said Hartmann. "I hear someone coming up the stairs."
All four of the young officers snapped to as Wildstar came up the stairs.
"Stand aside," he said as they saluted and he quickly returned the salute. "I'm afraid you'll be up much of the night, but we have a lot to discuss..."
Wildstar opened the hatch, noticing Nova snapping to attention in the cabin, which was again fully lit. She was, of course, in full uniform again. Wildstar walked in, and the others lined up in front of Wildstar's chair, coming to attention as the captain sat down.
"At ease," he said. "Mrs. Wildstar, would you close and dog the hatch, please?"
"Yessir," said Nova as she got up and locked the hatch.
"This evening, the Cometines attacked Earth again," began Wildstar. "In that attack, a few officers who happened to be near Idlewild Base were injured, some very seriously. Henceforth, I will have to replace some members of the crew, and I have chosen you as the most capable men and women to fill these posts."
"Effective immediately, Miss Parsons, you will become Venture's second-in-command and assistant pilot, replacing Christopher Eager in all of his duties, including the operation of the Tactical Radar on the first bridge. Since you have been well-trained, and were to operate the Cosmo Radar, in any event, you will be well-suited for this assignment."
"Mrs. Wildstar, you will retain your bridge post as Survey and Analysis officer. However, you will again man the Cosmo Radar, as on your previous two cruises with the Star Force. IQ-9 will again operate the Observation and Analysis post and will patch the data through to you as he has in the past."
"Mister Chafer, you are new to the Star Force, but I understand you are very capable. You will assist Commander Venture and Miss Parsons as the third-in-command of the Navigation Group, operating the second bridge astrogation post and supervising the enlisted men there who were previously Mister Ryder's subordinates."
"Miss Hartmann, you trained well under my command a few weeks ago. It's fortunate that you did, since I have chosen you to replace Thomas "Buzz" Rutherford as the leader of the third squadron of the Black Tigers. I wish you all possible success in your new assignment."
"Finally, Mister Ito...you will replace Mister Kato as the second platoon leader of the Star Force Troopers. I'm sure you will work well with Lieutenant Lance, who will remain in command of the Troopers and work with our new Marine Group."
Wildstar paused. "Do any of you have any questions?"
"No, sir," they all said in unison.
"Very well, then. Miss Hartmann, you'll return to Idlewild to assist Conroy and Hardy in the processing of the other replacements we'll need for the Black Tigers. The rest of you...will familiarize yourselves with your new assignments and your people by morning. Remember...we're still taking off at 0600 in the morning."
"Yessir," said everyone in unison as they saluted. At that, they left, with Nova following them.
"Mrs. Wildstar, hold it," said Derek. Nova turned her head and came back in, closing the hatch behind her as Derek asked, "Why are you leaving, Nova? You know your old job..."
"I already reprogrammed the Cosmo-Radar for Miss Parsons to operate it as prime user," said Nova. "Sandor and I will have to reprogram it so that I can log in on time in the morning. Because of that, I'll get...maybe two hours' worth of sleep, but..."
"I know," said Derek. "No rest for the weary in the Star Force, right?"
"Right," said Nova.
"You'll be okay?"
"Sure, Derek. I'll just brew some of my coffee to keep awake...brewing it the way I used to, of course."
"Black and strong enough to melt the spoon," she grinned. "See you later."
Space Battleship Argo
January 8, 2202
0548 Hours: Spacetime
It was now early morning on takeoff day. By 0600, the Argo would be blasting out of her dock.
"Sandor?" asked Wildstar from his new post at the Argo's Command Station..
"Captain, all of our preparations are completed."
"Captain Wildstar," said Homer. "Headquarters has just transmitted our launch clearance."
"Great," said Venture at the navigator-pilot's station. "Captain?"
"Sandor, disconnect the ship from all dockyard power sources; disconnect all umbilicals."
"Disconnecting ship from all external power sources and umbilicals," said Sandor as the lights inside the Argo dimmed for a split-second and then came back up again. "We are now on internal power. Making preparations to roll back all gantries."
At the appropriate commands from Sandor's Group, the gantries began to roll back, with their indicator spotlights going one by one from green to red.
"Gantries pulled back," said Sandor a moment later while watching his screen.
"Feels good to get the ol' girl up again, doesn't it?," said Orion from his post.
Wildstar simply nodded. "It does. Sandor, haul in the gangway: prepare for takeoff!"
Sandor flicked a switch, and the ship's gangplank folded itself up into the side of the hull, slamming to with a hiss of compressed air and a resounding thunk. Inside the underground dock, a klaxon began to blow; it was intended to alert all dockyard workers to clear the area.
"Gangway retracted," snapped Sandor.
"Sandor, what is our condition of material readiness?" asked Venture.
"We are now in condition zebra; all watertight hatches and fittings are secured," replied Sandor. "The ship is now totally severed from the dock."
"Captain, we're ready to cast off," said Venture.
"Venture, begin launch sequence," ordered Wildstar.
"Aye, aye, sir!" said Venture with a slight grin. "Orion, commence energy buildup for auxiliary engines."
"Aye, aye: Auxiliary engine, main switch on!" The white-haired engineer flicked a number of switches. His console began to light up. "Starting astrocompass," snapped Venture as the central compass began to glow slightly. An insistent, building whine of power began to resound through the ship as the auxiliary engines continued their energy buildup. "Auxiliary engine, normal revolution 1600: both port and starboard boosters are balancing well," said Orion as the hum of the engines steadied "Engines balanced and ready," he said a moment later.
"Activate gyro-stabilizer; accelerate slowly to maneuvering speed of two-point eight," said Venture.
The Argo's auxiliary engines kicked in, and the ship began to creep forward.
"Clear of all obstacles, entering the departure channel," said Venture as the huge space battleship slowly cruised out of the cave-like docking bay into the ocean.
"Space battleship Argo," said a voice over the bridge speakers. "This is Dock Operations, Tilden Point. You have cleared this base and are now being handed off to Operations in Defense Headquarters. Best wishes to you on your mission."
"They didn't say that last time," said Homer as the ship bobbed along on the waves.
"I think that's because we had to wreck their locks the last time we left," chuckled Dash.
"Do you think they still have any of those magnet missiles around, sir?" said Holly from her new post.
"Parsons, don't remind me of that!" snapped Venture.
"Well, this time, it'll be easier. As a matter of fact, I think this is the first time we left Earth without someone shooting at us, isn't it?" said Dash as he stretched while watching the horizon outside.
"Yeah, you're right," chuckled Rosstowski as the Argo cruised on, occasionally tailed by some seabirds. "First time I've ever seen it from up here on the bridge."
"And the same goes for me," said Holly Parsons from her new post beside Sandor.
"Enjoy the view, you two," chuckled Dash as he thought, Newbies!
The Argo cruised southeast, with the coastline of the South Shore the Megalopolis at the southeastern end of Tokyo Bay slipping past as she turned, heading southeast towards the open sea.
After another few minutes, Orion said, "Open the valve to the wave motion engine starting cylinder: five minutes to ignition!"
Down below in the engine room, Ensign Bradley Carver looked around and said, "Where's the valve he wants? I'm not familiar with this new Andromeda-type energy generation unit!"
He suddenly felt a nasty slap on the back of his head, and he yelled "Hey!"
"It's over heah, ya numbskull!" said Lieutenant Randy Parmon as he pointed angrily at a valve wheel.
"You shouldn't hit me like that!" yelled Carver. "Sir, you tend to your section, and I'll tend to mine."
"Keep actin' like that, boy, and ya won't have no section!" yelled Parmon.
"What's going on down there?" yelled Yamazaki as he walked up just in time to hear old Orion yelling over the intercom.
"Yamazaki! Are your lads asleep down there? You received an order to open the starting cylinder valve! The Deputy Captain's yelling for power!"
"We're opening the valve now, sir!" snapped Yamazaki as he pulled the correct lever and the readouts switched. "Whose fault was this?" he demanded.
"Mister Carver's" said Parmon.
"Sir...it's only because you..." began Carver, who was squelched by an evil glance from Parmon.
"Ah ain't through with you, yet," said Parmon. "I'll meetcha later, boy, when yoah watch is over!"
"You two, forget it and get to work before the Chief has our hides, Parmon!" yelled Yamazaki in an annoyed voice over the throbbing whine of the engine.
"Yessir," said both of them while exchanging evil glances.
"What was the problem, Orion?" demanded Venture on the bridge.
"Seems the new lads are just learnin' their jobs..." said Orion.
"They could learn a bit faster," huffed Venture.
"Aye, and they will," snapped Orion. "Increase inner pressure of wave motion engine: energy charge, ninety percent!"
As the whine of the engines grew louder, Venture looked back and said, "Auxiliary engines, maximum output. Take off in one minute. Sorry about the delay, Captain."
At that, the Argo's bow wake began to grow higher as the huge space battleship gained speed.
"Wave motion engine, energy charge one hundred percent: approaching one hundred and twenty. Start the flywheel!," said Orion.
"Starting flywheel, sir!" screamed Carver in the engine room as he activated the flywheel while Parmon and Yamazaki glared on.
The new wave engine's massive red flywheel began to spin rapidly.
"Energy charge, now at one hundred and twenty percent!" said Orion.
"Approaching takeoff speed," said Venture.
"What's our projected course?" asked Wildstar.
"Standard heading; Alpha-five," sir, " said Venture.
"Defense Headquarters has given us clearance and a clear path," said Homer.
"We'd better check that out in case any sightseers have any small atmospheric craft in the area," said Wildstar, as a strange feeling suddenly hit him. "Nova, give us a quick scan of the area; Parsons, follow that up with a tactical."
"Yessir," said both of them. Nova began scanning first, and briskly reported, "Gross flight path clear to tropospheric limit, sir." even as she thought, I wonder what he's thinking?
"Holly?" asked Wildstar.
"Clear on tactical, Captain," she said quickly.
"All right," thought Wildstar, who thought, Why can't I get out of my head the idea that we're being watched...and by something hostile, too?
Venture sat back and tightened his hands on the controls as the mighty ship gained still more speed, splashing up an even bigger wake at its bow.
"Venture, prepare for takeoff."
"Ten second countdown starting! Ten...nine...eight...seven..."
As Mark spoke, a huge wave dramatically broke over the ship's bow and weather deck as the Argo's speed increased even further.
"Six....five..." Venture said out loud.
Wildstar tensed against his seat, awaiting the sudden "kick" he'd feel for a moment as the wave engine blasted to life.
Orion smiled as the energy curve showed "nominal" on his readouts. The new wave engine was whining like a demon now as it awaited its upcoming blast to life.
Outside, water continued to course off the weather deck as the Argo cruised on, gleaming in the early morning sun.
"Wave motion engine contact now!" snapped Venture.
Underwater, the wave engine blasted to life in a blazing white blur of liberated energy. The ship shuddered, and began to blast forward at an increasing rate of speed as a huge bow wave appeared, throwing a massive amount of spray back over the guns, bridge tower, and superstructure of the massive space warship.
"Okay, here we go!" snapped Wildstar. "Argo, take off!"
"Argo taking off!" repeated Venture as he pulled back on his helm yoke.
The Argo roared both forward and upwards at the same time, blasting an extremely massive wave all around the ship as its mass began to lift upwards out of the sea.
Venture sat back and pulled back a bit further on his helm yoke. The ship's bow cleared the ocean first, followed by the rest of the massive vessel. Venture gave the wave engine another burst of power, and then the thrust blasted the rest of the resurrected old battlewagon up from the sea in an ascent that could only be described as majestic. The bow strained against the bonds of Earth, turning to starboard under Venture's able control while the last of the Argo's red keel rose up out of the water. A bright flare of light broke free from the water as the space warship's engine nozzles cleared the ocean surface, and the gleaming water of the ocean flew off the keel in an impressive trail as the rebuilt Argo plunged up into the sky at exactly 0630 hours, Spacetime, half an hour after departure.
"All clear: trim for cruising speed!," snapped Venture. "Main wings, open!" The Argo's wings slid out from her hull like the wings of a giant seabird as the ship's slow ascent sped up.
It did not take long for the Argo to gain speed and roar up into the heights of the sky. The coastline and the Megalopolis hung behind and below the ship like toy landscapes as the Argo approached the cloud cover over the Great Eastern Sea. As her engines throbbed on with a mighty roar, she entered the overcast, clearing the cloud cover a short time later.
At that, Venture checked his readings and levelled off for a time, slowing down just slightly. "Homer!" he called out. "Have you heard from the rest of the Black Tigers yet?"
"Not yet: Wait a moment: here's their signal now. Switching to loudspeakers."
Pete Conroy's voice came over the speakers a moment later as he said, "This is Black Tiger Flight Group Leader Conroy. Request permission for my squadron to enter approach for landing aboard the Argo."
"Granted!" said Wildstar eagerly.
"Captain, this is second squadron leader Hardy. Request permission to enter my final approach for landing on the Argo."
"Permission granted!" smiled Wildstar.
"This is third squadron leader Laurel Hartmann," snapped a familiar voice. "Request permission to enter final approach for landing aboard the Argo."
"Permission granted," said Wildstar.
"Captain, this is fourth squadron leader Tatiana Lubyanska," said a voice that not all of the bridge crew recognized. "Request permission to land aboard the Argo," she said.
"Permission granted," said Wildstar.
Homer laughed. "Two lady Tigers? What's this group coming to?"
"They're more capable than you'd think, Homer," said Rosstowski beside him.
"Yeah? You're new here on the bridge; what would you know?" chuckled Homer.
"More than you think," said Nova. "I trained with them recently, and they're good."
"We'll see what happens when the missiles start flying," chuckled Dash.
"Our last training exercise together was the Battle of Denver," said Nova. "There were plenty of missiles flying then, Dash."
"Oh? When did you become a Tiger?" said Dash in a slightly snide tone of voice.
"All right; that's enough!," snapped Wildstar from his post. "We've got a job to do here!"
"Yessir," said all of the combatants together, duly chastened. "I have them on tactical radar now," said Parsons. "Forty-eight Cosmo Tigers: distance, 11,000 meters, speed 42 knots and decelerating! Video panel on!"
With an expert flick, Holly switched on the video panel, revealing a nice view of the ship's four fighter squadrons approaching in four "V" formations. Before long, the lower hatch opened, and the planes from the first two squadrons screeched to a stop one by one on the deck, each held by the magnetic arresting fields, even as their fellow pilots from the other two squadrons did so on the upper two bays. When Conroy's plane arrived and was stowed, the lower bay hatch was closed, and the Argo's complete Fight Group was now finally on board, with twenty-four fighters in the lower bay under Conroy's and Hardy's command, twelve air-to-ground strike fighters in the port side upper bay under Hartmann's command, and twelve reconnaissance planes in the starboard side bay under Lubyanska's command. Those planes, when combined with the six medical boats, three landing boats, three torpedo boats, two specially equipped recon planes, two spare strike fighters, and Super Star Fighter the ship carried in the Boat Bay, made up sixty-five boats and planes. When one combined those with the two maintenance boats and two jet recon boats the ship carried in the forward hangar bay near the Mechanical Engineering section, one got a total of sixty-nine planes and boats; all of which were now finally on board with their pilots and flight crews.
A few minutes later, the Argo began to accelerate again on a blazing contrail from her engines as she continued to gain altitude over the Pacific Ocean...Great Island was now left far behind. Soon, the sky began to turn dark around the ship as it cleared the upper reaches of the atmosphere and Earth began to look like a vast blue, white and tan ball beneath the space battleship.
"Venture, retract the wings!" snapped Wildstar.
The wings folded back into the ship's hull a second later.
"Commence second stage: blast us out of orbit," said Wildstar.
"Aye, aye, sir!"
At that, the Argo began to surge forward.
Soon, Earth itself began to slowly recede on the ship's viewscreen as the space battleship cruised into orbit.
Wildstar nodded to himself at his Command station, pleased at the success of the Star Force's departure from Earth. "All hands," he said over the ship's intercom, "come to attention and render a salute to Earth as we bid her farewell ...for now."
On the bridge, everyone snapped to and solemnly saluted, thinking of the loved ones they were leaving behind.
Even Hartcliffe and Sakamoto turned serious for a moment as they stood with the other pilots of their respective squadrons on the battleship's starboard side observation deck.
As the bridge crew stood in rendering their farewells and silent homages to Earth, Wildstar thought, With the exception of my in-laws, all of those I love the most are either in space or here aboard this vessel. Especially...here...
When Wildstar said, "All hands, end salute," he couldn't help glancing up at the Cosmo-Radar as he sat down. His eyes and Nova's met for a moment, and a thousand words passed between them in silence.
The bridge doors opened a moment later, and Laurel Hartmann came on the bridge, stopping before Wildstar to salute and say, "Captain, I'm here as previously ordered to inform you that my squadron will be ready to lead off in our attack maneuvers once we come out of warp near Mars."
"Great. Is Miss Lubyanska ready to defend against a simulated fighter assault?"
"Hope not, sir. I want to win this one," she said with an evil grin. "Will that be all, Captain?"
"Yes, Miss Hartmann. You're dismissed. Prepare to head to your warp station."
Laurel nodded, saluted, and left.
"All hands," said Wildstar over the intercom. "We will be in position to make our test warp to Mars in twenty minutes. Secure all stations and make all preparations for warp."
Now, thought Wildstar as he looked up at the screen at the receding Earth just one more time before Nova switched the view to a forward one, our work begins. I hope we're up to the task. This time, I have a feeling we can't make any mistakes. And why do I still have this feeling that we're being watched?
As Wildstar took a deep breath, he knew better than to ask for another status report from Miss Holly Parsons or Mrs. Nova Wildstar. Both his radar officers knew their jobs; and he knew that one or both of them would give a report if something came up within their range.
With that thought in Wildstar's mind, the Argo cruised on towards its warp test point, between the Earth and the Moon.
"Time to make our status report," hissed the Cometine reconnaissance ship's pilot. "Correct," said the Scorpion's communications specialist. "General Naska," he said as his tight-bean transmission was encoded upon sending. "We have the Argo on visual at long range. They've just left Earth orbit. Sending a visual now."
On his carrier, Naska smiled a tight smile as the image of the hated ship came up on his screen. "Hmmm....other than a fancy new paint job and some stupid Terran heraldry, you've changed little, Star Force. This time, you'll suspect nothing at all when we move in for the kill."
"Should we attack them near their home planet, sir?" asked one of Naska's officers.
"No, we'll let them cruise unbothered for a while. It'll give them a false sense of security once we do finally strike! They'll have no idea what hit them!" sneered Naska before he began to laugh derisively. "And, what's more, Gernitz will be so pleased once I bring him the news of a glorious victory against those fools! I softened them up last night...now, it's time for the kill!"
At that, Naska began to laugh like a fiend.
Click here to return to the Introduction to Visions