Confederated Star Systems #1
Major Jake Hannigan monitored the schematic on his cockpit screen. He adjusted his wing trajectory a micron to keep in formation.
Bronze Squadron, based at Space Base III halfway between Zephron II and the jump point to this system, drilled endlessly to keep this sector of civilized space free of the marauding Marils.
Drills. He hated drills. Flying in formation for endless hours, then breaking off in precise and predetermined patterns. Real flying, real fighting against the enemy wasn’t precise or predetermined. It was messy, chaotic.
“Bronze squadron break off into delta pattern four,” came through his helmet system loud and clear.
Delta four! At last something different. He banked starboard and down leading his group to the other side of the formation and a different perspective of the moon they “defended.” Not much fun, but a least it was movement.
Right now, Jake could use some fun in his life. The Marillon Empire had retreated after the Confederated Star Systems fleet had whupped their ass at the battle of Platian IV right on the edge of the Harmonic Empire. He hadn’t seen any action since. Other than drills. Four effing Terran months of drills.
Everyone wanted access to Harmony and their lock on Badger Metal. Aloysius Badger had joined the cult of Harmony when it was still based on Earth, then taken the formula with him when the religious fanatics went off to found their own world. Reverse engineering on his prototype just didn’t shield spaceships from radiation and the sensory disruption of hyperspace like the real stuff.
So far, neither the Marils nor the CSS had broken the Harmonic border, either peacefully or militarily. And neither side was willing to team up with the other to have a go at Harmony. Nor would either allow the other to breach Harmony’s borders to get access to Badger Metal.
Harmony had closed their borders and severed all contact with the rest of the galaxy fifty years ago. Before that, they’d only allowed a few selected merchants to trade in neutral space. The dribble of real Badger Metal they allowed out didn’t match the need for it.
Now, with the war claiming vessels right, left, and sideways, everyone was running out of Badger Metal. Wildcat scavengers made fortunes collecting battle debris for scraps of Badger Metal that could be recycled.
The effing vultures sold those scraps to the highest bidder. Even if the money came from the Marils.
Since the last battle, both sides had gone into holding mode. Neither one wanted to continue the war without fresh Badger Metal in their hulls. Neither side was willing to let the other have it.
And Harmony didn’t seem to care as long as they were left alone. No one had seen a Harmonite outside their borders in decades. Possibly longer.
And no CSS merchant or agent had entered Harmonite space and returned alive in fifty years.
So every person who wore a CSS uniform was trained to home in on any casually overheard conversation in a bar or marketplace, that mentioned Harmony in any context. The tiniest hint of a rumor coming out of Harmony captured their complete attention.
Jake edged his fighter three degrees starboard out of formation just to see if the colonel would notice.
“Get back in line, Hannigan!” Colonel Warski barked over the comm.
“Yes, sir. Correcting for drift.” Jake adjusted his position. So much for that ploy.
“No time for drifting in combat, Hannigan,” Warski continued his rebuke.
“This ain’t combat,” Jake muttered with his comm off. “Not even close.”
Jake’s screens exploded with data. It looked like a hundred Maril fighters had homed in on the squadron. And behind the fighters loomed a huge battle wagon. The Tactical Tech Team back at base had come up with a new scenario for target practice. And they’d waited until the flyboys were nearly asleep with boredom to spring it on them.
Jake picked his target quickly. On the starboard edge of the formation, he was responsible for making sure none of the bogeys slipped around behind them. Just like in a real battle.
“Sheesh, I hope this is only a simulation,” Lieutenant Marti James breathed. The rookie. A good pilot, on the verge of being almost as good as Jake, but untried in true combat.
Jake could almost smell the woman’s sweat. He keyed in a private comm line to her. “You know this is simulation because the TTT are all born and raised in gravity. They think in two dimensions. The Maril have wings. They are conceived and born in the air. They think in three dimensions. Their formations have depth. This one is flat.”
For over one hundred years individual planets of humans had fended off malicious and unprovoked attacks by the winged aliens. Then a hundred years ago humans had banded together into the Confederated Star Systems, a loose alliance that needed to become tighter and more organized to better fight their enemy.
James breathed a sigh of relief. “Ever seen one of them critters?”
“Yeah, captured one two campaigns ago. His ship was damaged and he had a concussion so we could tow him in before he suicided. Small bodies, very lightly boned. Feathered wings tucked into an extra fold of skin at the back of the arms. Evolved down from real wings. They can still fly in atmosphere, though. Very dexterous hands, talons on the elbow joints that can tear a man in half. The warriors have black wings, hair—that’s really very fine feathers—and eyes. Iridescent black. It shimmers and shifts colors in the light. Awesome. Beautiful. Terrible.”
Irene Radford, writing as C.F. Bentley. has been creating stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck.
A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between.