Buck Who? Chapter 1

Chris Van Deelen

As publisher Michael O. Varhola and those who follow me on Facebook know, I am a prolific writer. I get an idea and I run with it until I either get bored, another project hits me, or I set it aside for various reasons.

Last week I got hit with the urge to finally write some Science Fiction. In fact, this little story (I have no idea how long it's going to get in the end) combines SF and one of my favorite sub-genres.

I won't say which, you'll just have to read the story to find out.

Now this has gone through two quick edits, and the way I write I will more than likely go back and make some changes. I'll be sure to post in the opening when I have done so.

So, without further adieu, here is Chapter 1 of 'Buck Who?"

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Chapter 1: Nap Time!

May 24, 2339 – Somewhere between Mars and Jupiter

Gritting his teeth, Lieutenant Declan ‘Shard’ Starrett threw his Space Superiority Fighter into a desperate roll. All around his small ship, explosions indicated where both the enemy and ally pilots had breathed their last. He knew that if sound could be heard in the vacuum, his eardrums would be severely damaged.

He was strapped into the cockpit of a sleek fighter, ten meters in length. The wings of the craft were swept forward, instead of the usual configuration. Many who saw the fighter felt it had the similarity to a raptor getting ready to strike. The hull was painted a dull grey. The paint containing emission absorbing properties, which served to help diminish sensor returns. It was not perfect stealth coating, but it served its purpose well enough. The fighter, a F-231, held the moniker Shrike. The space superiority fighter or SSF was armed with an array of ship to ship missiles, and a pair of particle cannons for close engagements.

“Shard, watch your six!” A voice he did not recognize blared from the speakers. Shard stole a glance at his heads-up display. Sure enough, he had two ChiFed fighter’s on his tail, closing rapidly. Bolts of energy, unseen by the naked human eye, flashed past his rapidly twisting and evading fighter. He briefly wondered if the energy were from X-ray lasers or something else? Then his attention was drawn back to the battle at hand. “Babs, activate the point defense batteries, see if that will dissuade our tailgaters!”

“You’re such a stinker!” The AI laughed in a light feminine tone. A second later there was a miniscule drop in the fighter’s power, the only indication that the defensive weapons had discharged. The point defense batteries were a pair of six barreled lasers, which had a range of only one hundred meters at the most. They were designed to take out incoming missiles, but could also be used on pursuing enemy craft.

“Sorry, Doc – no love on that account,” Babs reported a moment later.

Shard cursed and gritted his teeth. “Streaker, give me a hand here!” He bellowed a second later. One of the ChiFed’s Mengqin fighters was only a heartbeat away from getting a firm lock on his craft. If he did not find a way to shake the fighter, he would be dead. At least it will be fast, he mused.

“Blue three, fox two!” A voice rang out over his helmet speakers. His wingman launched a seeker missile against the Mengqin fighter. As the ChiFed pilot was to gain a successful lock, the missile streaked across the vacuum. The red blip which had been dogging his tail for the past several seconds suddenly veered off, attempting evasive maneuvers.

Shard had no time to see if the missile caught its mark or not. He still had a second Mengqin fighter on his six. The damned pilot was good, very good. He, or she, as Shard knew that the ChiFeds were not sexist when it came to pilots, matched his flight path almost perfectly. The pilot was not going to bother with missiles – the energy cannons mounted on the Mengqin would finish him off.

He had one trick up his sleeve. NorRuCom fighters came equipped with the latest generation in anti-gravity technology. As such, they could perform amazing feats, which would typically tear apart other space-craft. He thumbed open a small panel on his control-stick and mashed the button with his thumb.

His fighter suddenly lost more than half of its forward momentum. If such a maneuver had been used by a ship not equipped with the same technology, the pilot would be killed instantly. The momentum would have turned the organic pilot into a mess of pulped tissue, bone and blood. That was not to be Shard’s fate this day.

The pursuing Mengqin fighter flew past him, missing his ship by a mere dozen meters or less. Even as he thumbed the switch to kill the forward momentum of his craft, his index finger squeezed the trigger of his dual particle cannons. Unlike the energy weapons used by the ChiFed forces, the discharge from his weapons was wholly visible. Twin streams of highly excited particles lashed out from the barrels of the cannons, mounted beneath each wing. In less time than it took to blink, the energy streams slashed through the rear of the enemy fighter. The ship and its pilot blew apart in a silent explosion.

The maneuver he had just executed was dangerous at the best of times. It was not used very often, especially at the velocities one achieved in the depths of space. More often than not, the pursuing enemy would smash into the Shrike, the pilot being incapable of reacting fast enough to pull out of the way.

Then again, when a dogfight got to knife-fighting distances, the battle was determined in mere seconds, sometimes less. Shard knew the risks and had counted on their being enough distance between himself and his pursuer.

The gamble paid off.

“I think I just peed a little,” Babs commented dryly.

“You and me both,” Shard said. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it would punch through his chest. “I don’t want to do that again anytime soon.” If he could, Shard would have reached up and wiped his brow, even though there was no sweat present.

He continued to scan the HUD, and he did not like what he saw. The NorRuCom force he had been part of was rapidly disappearing. The ships either destroyed or so damaged as to be out of the battle.

“How many of our SSF’s are left?” He asked.

“Twenty seven,” Babs answered immediately.

“Where the hell were the enemy forces coming from?” He cursed and threw his fighter into a barrel roll. “Blue seven, fox two!” He called out as he triggered the last of his complement of missiles. The enemy fighters were so overwhelming, it would take the missiles dedicated processor only a second to lock onto the closest target.

In the intervening seconds, four more of his wing-mates icon’s faded to black. Shard felt his blood begin to boil. This was not a battle, it was a slaughter! He had never been in such a lopsided fight. Cursing aloud, he spotted the nearest concentration of enemy Mengqin fighters. It had to be a single formation. There were five fighters in total, arranged in a diamond pattern. He figured that the wing commander would be either in the center or at the apex of the formation.

“Doc, I would strongly advise against doing that, you’re going to get us killed!”

“We’re probably going to die anyhow,” Shard snarled. He kicked in the Shrike’s after-burners and the SSF leapt forward. He was far out of the weapon’s effective range; but Shard still triggered the Shrike’s twin particle cannon’s.

Before the first of the shots could even come close to hitting, the diamond formation broke apart. Each of the five ships flew off in different directions. He kept his eyes on the middle icon, instinctively knowing that it had to be the wing commander.

“Four seconds, that’s all I need,” he growled through clenched teeth. A bead of sweat slowly slid down the side of his head, the only indication of how much stress he was under.

Three seconds.

Two seconds.

One second.

“Warning, warning, subspace wormhole opening detected!”

“What the hell?” He blurted out. The enemy Mengqin suddenly hit his own afterburners and took off like a cat with its tail on fire.  He knew something bad was occurring if his AI spoke in that tone and did not call him Doc.

Sure, they were far away from the gravity well generated by Mars and the much larger planet Jupiter, but this was unheard of. He barely had time to comprehend what was happening when one of the ChiFed’s Jia class carriers suddenly appeared in a maelstrom of energy and particle waves. The massive vessel was directly in front of him, maybe two kilometers or less away. At the speed he was travelling, he would impact the side of the massive ship in a micro-second.

The fighter had its own defenses, and it employed them automatically. The ship’s AI, Babs, analyzed the situation, reviewing the data presented to it. It mulled over several hundred different possible outcomes and finally settled in on the best action it had available. Babs took over the controls so quickly Shard did not even register what was happening. The next thing he knew the fighter was pulling up hard and banking to the left. He opened his mouth to scream out his fear and frustration at such an inglorious end to his career and life.

As the ship skimmed the outer hull of the Jia class carrier, he felt it shudder and there was a violent ripping sound. Then the fighter was clear and streaking off into space, leaving the monstrous hulk of the carrier behind.

All in all the entire event took place in just over two seconds.

“Great piloting, Babs!” He called out in exaltation.

“You’re welcome, Doc. Sorry I had to take control, but your reflexes and reaction time were just too slow, not like a rabbits!”  The ship’s AI reported.

Shard put his fighter into a barrel roll, knowing that even now, the carrier was probably unleashing its complement of fighters. What had been a heavily contested battlefield was about to get all that much hotter.

He zeroed in on his display and could see a massive red blob covering nearly the entire display. Without conscious thought, he reduced the size and range of his display so he could see the entire battle. Shard gasped in horror as it became apparent maybe a dozen or so of his fellow pilots were still alive.

Originally there had been over a hundred fighters.

Now only eleven blue symbols remained on his display. Even as he made his decision, two more symbols flashed and disappeared.

“Shit!” He cursed loudly. “Babs, we’re going in. Maybe we can damage the carrier enough to make all the death worth-while.”

“Eh, there’s nothing we can possibly do to damage the ship, Doc,” Babs told him in her annoying calm voice. “The Jia have powerful shields, and even ramming your fighter at nearly the speed of light will not make any difference.”

Shard was only half listening. He suddenly found seven of the Mengqin fighters were closing in on his position. They were closing in a lot quicker than he would have liked. The lock-on warning began to blare inside the cockpit of his fighter and he realized he had only seconds left.

“Been nice working with you, Babs,” he sighed, already resigned to his impending doom.

The alarm beeped faster and faster until it became a single, never-ending tone. He expected to see a flash of light and then the all-encompassing nothingness of death. The alarm tone ended and nothing happened. He was still drawing breath, although his bowels felt loose and his body practically quivered with adrenaline.

When he looked at his screen, it showed that the enemy Mengqin fighter’s had completed a literal about-face. The Mengqin’s were hightailing it away from him and the rest of the surviving ships. The NorRuCom forces were now down to six SSF’s, including him.

He was still too close to the massive Jia carrier when he realized that the ChiFed’s were after prisoners of war. That could be the only explanation of why the fighters were evacuating the battlefield.

“EMP!” He screamed out over the channel, hoping that the other surviving members of the exercise would catch on.

Then it hit. One second he was about to push his thrusters to maximum, and the next second his ship was dead in space. Every electrical system onboard went dark. The air circulating through his suit suddenly ceased and already he could feel the cold seeping through his protective flight-suit. Maybe it was just his imagination, he could not be sure.

Fumbling in the darkness, he found his personal side-arm. Due to the amount of times pilots were often subjected to EMP bursts, they carried cartridge side-arms. The weapons were considered to be primitive when compared to modern, energy projecting devices. Any weapon that used gun-powder and slugs was all but laughed at. He would have the last laugh however, when an EMP burst took out their high-tech energy weapons. If the ChiFed forces figured they were going to capture him without a fight, they were in for a nasty shock.

“Ohh, must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque,” a slightly woozy voice spoke through his suit’s speakers. “I don’t feel too good.”

“Babs!” Shard cried out, delighted. “You survived!”

“Can’t keep a good rabbit down,” his AI said. “Damn glad you insisted on hardened circuitry and the extra shielding.”

“You and me both, buddy.” He paused and thought about the situation. “Can you get any of the systems back online?”

“Basic life-support and the emergency beacon,” Babs answered. “Sorry Doc, that’s about it. I’m amazed I survived. That was a doozy of an EMP!”

“Tell me about it,” Shard snorted. He reached up and swiped his hand across the now-blank computer display. It refused to respond.

“Told ya so, Doc,” Babs snorted. For an AI, she could be incredibly sarcastic. “Ya silly maroon!”

And insulting.

He ignored the slight jibe and looked outside the cockpit window. His Shrike was spinning out of control. In the few short moments since the EMP blast, the ship had already travelled far beyond the engagement envelope. He could not even see the distant explosions as the ChiFed’s erase the lives of his fellow pilots.

Shard blew out a breath that he had not realized he was holding. In the endless void between Mars and Jupiter, space seemed tranquil. Space was lit by an infinite number of stars, twinkling like diamonds in the vast reaches. There were those who claimed space was empty and black, but he knew better. Shard had spent most of his youth and the recent years plying the trade-routes from Earth to the outer colonies and beyond. He was more at home in the depths of space then he ever felt when dirt-side or on station.

“Any luck rebooting the systems?” He asked at length.

“Sorry Doc. I have managed to bring the emergency thrusters online, and life-support, but that’s it.”

“Great,” he grumbled sarcastically. “How about communications?”

“Nadda on the coms,” Babs told him. “Besides, do you really want to attract their attention?”

Shard thought about it. If he could activate his emergency beacon, then there was a pretty good chance that he would be rescued. Considering the outcome of the battle however, he was also sure those who came to his aid would not be friendly. He could very well spend the rest of his life as a prisoner of war. There was also the very real possibility that the ChiFed forces would just destroy his ship.

“I’m at a loss, Babs. What do you suggest?”

The AI was silent for nearly half a minute. At last she replied. “You only have enough oxygen for twelve hours. I think the best chance you for survival is allowing me to put you into cryogenic suspension. Then I’ll arrest our momentum and activate the emergency beacon so there is a chance someone will discover us.”

He did not like what Babs was suggesting. He could be floating for weeks or months before someone finally discovered his ship. What really worried him was the vastness of space, and his Shrike was like a speck of sand on the beach. Would anyone discover him and Babs, or would they become yet another relic lost in the vast, empty reaches between the planets?

 Shard gave his head a shake. The Sol system was literally brimming with stations, automated factories, space-based resorts and military facilities. Hundreds, if not thousands of man-made satellites could be found in all corners of the system. There were even remote listening and early warning stations out in the Oort cloud.

Surely someone would eventually pick up his signal and come out to investigate. The odds were pretty good it would be the ChiFeds, but would being a prisoner of war be so bad? He had heard stories about the way each side treated the prisoners they captured. It was not like it had been during the previous centuries. Prisoners were treated with respect and human dignity.

Still, the thought of becoming a prisoner rankled him. He really wished the attack had come from the outer reaches of the system. At least his unit would have had time to prepare for the assault. Of course it had not been the case.

“Alright Babs, do it.”

“Good choice, Doc!” The AI answered, reverting to its usual manner of speech.  “Do ya wanna record any messages before I initiate the deep freeze?”

Shard shook his head. “No point.”

“Okay, Doc, whatever you say.”

Shard had no family. He had been an only child and his parents had perished several years ago. It had been a freak accident, a faulty locking mechanism which somehow fooled the computer. One second his parents were ready to take some well-deserved time off on a resort station, the next they were dead. The investigators were still baffled by the accident, but eventually they wrote it off as being just that – an accident. To make matters worse, he was off on assignment and even the quickest shuttle would not have returned him to Earth. As a result, he missed the funeral.

He did not have any brothers or sisters, and he never had a chance to get to know his parent’s siblings or other relatives. Maybe once this was over he would take the time to look some of them up.

“Initiating cryogenic suspension”

Shard yawned and settled deeper into his seat. He adjusted the straps so they were comfortable and merely held him in place. He yawned again, even though he knew it would take time for the effects of the drugs to take effect. His flight-suit was hooked into this Shrike, allowing Babs to pump the drugs directly into his oxygen supply.

“Doc?”

“Yeah, what’s up Babs?”

The AI snorted. “Hey, that’s my line.”

Shard laughed. “Seriously, what do you need?”

“Just to remind you to take my AI core when we’re finally rescued. I don’t want to be reprogrammed or worse, erased.”

“You have my permission to download your personality and memory files into my internal hard-drive.”

“Seriously, Doc?”

“You’re my friend, Babs. I’ll do whatever I can to protect you, if it comes down to us falling into the ChiFed’s hands.”

The computer was silent for a moment. “Thanks, Declan.”

He smiled and shifted in his seat, finding the most comfortable position possible. His Shrike’s AI never called him by his first name. It was always Doc. He knew that Babs was touched by his offer. She was an AI, but modern AI’s had a full range of human emotions. Unlike humans however, they could control their emotions and reactions.

Most people were terrified of downloading an AI into their internal Hard-Drive. There were horror stories of AI’s taking over a person’s mind, effectively killing them in the process. Babs had been with him nearly from the moment he graduated OCS and entered flight school. To him, Babs was far more than just an AI. Babs had a personality, an individual and he had a strong connection to her. Frankly, there were times he wished that Babs was a real woman.

The air inside his helmet began to smell odd. It was not unpleasant, but there was a distinct medicinal tinge to it. Shard figured he had maybe two, three minutes at the most before the drugs would all but shut-down his vitals.

He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to drift.  Considering the events which had just taken place, he began to think about the ChiFeds. The old Chinese government had fallen well over a century before and, like the Phoenix of legend, a new regime had arisen. The new Chinese empire consisted of most of the Asian countries, with the exception of Japan. The Japanese remained stalwart friend of the United States and her allies.

It was quite the strange alliance. The United States was closely tied to Mexico, Canada, Japan, Britain, Australia, and of all countries, Russia. In fact, Russia was one of her most stalwart supporters and friends, second to only Canada. Thus the name of their alliance, the NorRuCom, or North America, Russian command.

Tension was high between the two greatest powers on Earth, and over the past thirty years, numerous brush-wars had been fought. It was only over the past decade events had begun to heat up to the point that many feared for the survival of Earth.

All thanks to several alien races secretly throwing their support to one side or the other. Numerous races had been discovered and contacted over the past two centuries. Some had been friendly, others aloof and distant. Thankfully none of the races had been outright hostile.

Shard yawned even wider. He was beginning to feel the effects of the drugs that would put him to sleep. The Cryonic suspension would stop all his vitals, shutting him down. In effect, the suspension was killing him. That fact did not scare the man. He knew all that was required to bring him back was warmth and one easily obtained counter-agent.

Still, his mind was growing fuzzy and he was having a hard time concentrating. So instead he allowed his thoughts to drift back to the events that led him to his current predicament.

The ChiFed’s had appeared, quite literally, out of nowhere. Two of their latest Super Carriers, Jia Class carriers, had just appeared in the middle of a training exercise, of which Shard was participating. One second he was the wingman to Levi ‘Jugs’ Dawson, painting his target in order to launch a salvo of smart missiles. The next minute he was passing through the flaming debris cloud, which was all that was left of Jug’s SSF.

Chaos was the order of the day as he and the surviving pilots engaged the ChiFed fighters. The enemy ships, named Mengqin, were smaller and slightly faster. They were not as heavily armored and carried a lighter payload. This made the Menquin’s far more maneuverable than the relics he and his fellow pilots flew.

A single thought seemed to drag on for hours. Shard knew he would not remain conscious for much longer. There was one aspect to the battle that disturbed him greatly. It was how the ChiFeds had appeared. All the alien races humanity had encountered used FTL or faster than light travel. To his knowledge, only two of the races used technology that allowed their ships to appear as if by magic. The Tuatha and the Annunaki. One race was very human-like in appearance, while the other was humanoid, but reptilian.

Some say that both alien races had been meddling in the affairs of humanity since the first hominid learned how to harness fire.  The Tuatha were so human in appearance it was uncanny. The only difference real between the two races, at least in physical similarity, was the ears. Many people believed the Tuatha were responsible for the whole mythology behind Elves. Like elves of myth, the Tuatha were haughty and tended to look down upon humanity, despite establishing trade relations and embassies on Earth.

The Annunaki however were the most hostile of the alien races humanity had encountered. No actual wars had ever been fought with the aliens, but tensions always ran high. The Annunaki were humanoid, although they were very reptilian. It was once suggested the Annunaki are what Velociraptors would have eventually evolved into if the species had survived. The Annunaki were cold and calculating and it was only after nearly two centuries had passed they had finally begun to trade with Earth.

It was also well known that the Tuatha and the Annunaki had a serious dislike for one another.

As the darkness finally crept in to claim him, his last thought was to wonder if and why either would provide the technology to the ChiFeds. It would tip the balance and possibly lead to one final war between the two superpowers.

Was that what the aliens wanted? Or was there something else he was missing entirely?

“Night, Babs.”

“See you soon, Doc.” There was the briefest of pauses. “Sweet dreams, Declan.”

Darkness claimed him before he could reply.

Chris Van Deelen is the author of the Skirmisher Publishing LLC sourcebook  Creatures of the Tropical Wastes  sourcebook, co-author of its  Wisdom from the Wastelands  game supplement and contributor to the  'Sword of Kos: Hekaton'  Anthology.