Shrike Flamestar

The Invisible!

Age 30
Male
Within the synapses of the internet and my own mind.
Seen December 27th, 2014
Posted February 20th, 2012
212 posts
11.8 Years
...Continued from previous post.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In two weeks the Andromeda had reached the colony, a sprawling station positioned next to a large chunk of rock on which several mining operations were carried out. The main core and habited part of the station was shaped like a ring, rotating about a central hub. The rotation of the ring gave the station a limited sort of artificial gravity, something which Zack found both awkward and relieving. He was stationed aboard the Andromeda, not the colony however, so his trips to the station were always too short for him to truly get used to the feel of gravity again. At about three weeks into his training he was finally starting to learn hands-on with the Vespers themselves, and wasn't too bad at it.

The Andromeda was cruising a good distance away from the colony as the trainees practiced basic manurers in the Vespers. The small starfighters buzzed about the Andromeda like a swarm of gnats, the trainees adapting well to the basics of flying the agile craft. The order was sent out for the trainees to come back to land, and the gnats began to navigate towards the slit through the Andromeda's midsection. Carefully, Zack pointed his Vesper's long body towards the slit, easing off on the throttle and rotating the maneuvering thrusters positioned at the very tips of the Vesper's angeled, sweptback wings so that they would apply a small amount of thrust opposite the twin plasma engines on the back of the Vesper. The starfighter began to slow as the landing deck of the Andromeda grew closer, strips of lights along its surface guiding pilots in. Rotating the wingtip thrusters upwards slightly, Zack's Vesper began to drift downwards, ensuring that he'd clear the top of the large landing deck. Still slowing down, he nimbly slipped into the Andromeda with plenty of space to spare overhead. Now drifting through the landing bay, Zack carefully adjusted he angle of the thrusters so that they'd slow his descent, lowing his landing gear and firing a series of fixed thrusters located beneath the fighter so that when it finally landed, it hit the deck lightly enough so that the landing gear's suspension could absorb the shock.

The Vesper was held to the deck magnetically for a moment, Zack relaxing after the training session. The Vesper suddenly began to move on its own, the controlled magnetic current through the floor of the landing bay shifting to create tracks along which the Vespers that had landed were pushed. As the Vesper moved, Zack hit a series of controls that closed the wingtip thrusters, rotating them back so that they lay flat along the back edge of the wings. The wings themselves then began to flip upwards, rotating upwards until they locked into straight vertical positions. In that time the Vesper had been moved onto a portion of the floor that had been striped yellow and black, just big enough for the Vesper with its wings folded. Recognizing that the wings had been flipped into their storage position, the floor began to drop as the Vesper, with Zack still inside, was carried to the hanger deck beneath. Stopping momentarily to close an airlock door above, the Vesper soon continued downwards again on the elevator, emerging into a large deck beneath the landing deck. Just as with the landing deck, the hanger deck stretched from one end of the ship to the other, although the middle was riddled with various rooms. Pulled along another magnetic track, the Vesper was carried off the elevator and navigated towards a storage area, Zack unsealing his cockpit canopy and sliding it forward as it came to a stop for inspection.

“Nice landing; you didn't even leave any dents on the deck.” A tall, blond haired man walked up to Zack as he climbed down a ladder that had been wheeled next to his Vesper. The man was dressed in the blue jumpsuit of a squadron leader, contrasting against Zack's own orange jumpsuit. A patch on his jumpsuit clearly identified his name, Lance Blake. “Can't say the same for some of the others, though...”

Zack shrugged. “Call it luck, I'm really no better than anyone else. I couldn't fight my way out of a paper bag yet in one of these.”

Lance smirked. “Hey, that's not a bad idea. Remind me to try it sometime.”

Zack laughed, feeling at ease with his squad's leader. He had been worried that the command would be too uptight, too harsh and unforgiving. Fortunately it proved to be just the opposite, everyone was willing to help the trainees out and becoming buddies with your commanders was expected. He had come to realize how tight the people aboard the ship got; when you were stuck on it for months at a time, making friends with even your superiors did a great deal for one's sanity.

I'm finally starting to feel like I can be myself... Back on Earth, I never felt like I could act free, as around every corner there'd be another Pokémon, and to prevent others from realizing my hate I had to keep my mouth shut, stay withdrawn... But here, there is no worry. I can be free, knowing that I'll never find anyone other than a human, and won't end up acting irrationally. This ship is so much more than a sanctuary where I can hide from my fears, it is a place where I can finally let myself go and be myself, rather than hide who I am.

Zack and Lance walked back to where the other trainees in the squad had lined up; magnets in their boots prevented them from drifting off freely, which would be catastrophic in the busy desk. Zack quickly took his position in the line as Lance began to go over the specifics of what he had seen, where some had done poorly or excelled, and how everyone could improve. Nothing was out of the ordinary at first, but over time Zack began to feel something in the air, a sense of unease. He noticed that some of the higher ranked officers had stopped what they had been doing, listening to something through their communication implants. After a moment even Lance quieted, his eyes widening. “Excuse me, something's come up...” he muttered as he turned and walked away, the eyepiece that sat sheathed in a holster over his ear flipping forward and over his left eye to display something that Zack couldn't make out from where he stood.

The trainees stood in muted silence, wondering what was going on. Before too long, however, a voice rang out through the ship's intercom, “All personnel, prepare for possible enemy contact. Three unidentified ships have entered the sector and are approaching our position. All alert pilots, prepare for imminent combat launch. Unidentified vessels will be within interception range in three minutes, all attempts at contact failing. This is not a drill; I repeat, this is not a drill.”

Immediately a frenzy burst out on the hanger deck. Some of the alert fighters were already in position at the front of their launch tubes, however others weren't ready yet due to having been moved to accommodate the trainee's launches. Mechanics rushed to move Vespers into position, pilots rushing out of one of the rec rooms and fastening on their helmets; their jumpsuits already on. Lance moved his squadron out of the way and sat them off to the side, telling them to stay put until he received further orders. Zack watched as pilots climbed into their Vespers, the fighters who were ready at the launch tubes sliding through the open airlock door as soon as the canopy had sealed. One by one the launch tube airlocks closed on both ends of the wide hanger as the Vespers and pilots moved into position, ready to intercept any possible attack.

Far forward in the ship, amid its large bridge, just as much frenzy as in the hanger was going on. In a chair above a circular pit lined with computers sat a woman with long blond hair and sharp eyes, appraising the information displayed on various holographic displays that her chair projected. Commanding her chair to move through a series of tracks in the ceiling, she hovered over a man sitting at a console below, “Any response yet?”

“None. The ships are completely unresponsive, they won't even receive our communications much less respond,” the officer reported.

“Then either their communications are down or they have no reason to listen to us. With three ships I doubt the first, so we must count on the second.” Again the captain moved her chair over to another station. “Have you been able to ID them?”

“Not very well. They are not broadcasting any identification codes, and the ships themselves are too distant to visually determine. We'll need to get closer for visual identification to be more reliable.”

Captain Willow nodded, sliding her chair back to the center of the room. “Open a channel to the colony,” she ordered.

A holographic display popped up to let her know that the communication channel was open, and quickly she explained the situation. “Three unidentified ships are approaching ours and we have reason to believe that they may be rebels. We are not sure of their intended target, but to be safe I request that you immediately vacate all civilians to ships and be prepared for immediate evacuation of the area.”

“We suspected as much when we picked up the ships for ourselves,” the governor of the colony said to Willow through the communication channel. “May you stay safe if this encounter comes to blows.”

“I won't let any rebels get the better of me...” Willow mumbled as the channel closed.

“Sir, we are within interception range!” one of the officers from below shouted.

“Launch the alert fighters! At the first sign of aggression they are to disable the enemy's shields and engines; complete destruction of the enemy ships is to be avoided if at all possible,” Willow commanded, satisfied as she noted on one of her displays that in the time it took for the ships to close range with each other, all the alert fighters had finished loading into the launch tubes.

As her command was relayed to the hanger deck, she watched as her display indicated the Vespers launching in pairs, one from each side of the ship at a time from the specialized launch tubes positioned below the landing deck on either side of the hanger. As each Vesper launched it quickly turned and shot forwards, towards the oncoming trio of vessels. The unidentified ships weren't as large as the Andromeda, but what they lacked in size they made up in numbers; a three on one engagement rarely resulted in the smaller force winning. Of course, Captain Willow knew that those statistics relied on the ships being equally matched. The Andromeda was a new and advanced starship; she doubted that rebels could muster anything comparable.

“All alert fighters are away and proceeding on intercept course with unidentified ships. We will be within estimated weapons range in twenty seconds,” an officer reported.

Willow noticed that the alert fighters were well within range of the unidentified ships yet hadn't been fired on, and for a moment she thought that perhaps the ships weren't rebels and were just damaged after all. In just twenty seconds, however, a series of long streaks of light shot out from the unidentified ships, the extremely fast moving projectiles impacting with the Andromeda's kinetic shielding, rocking the whole ship. The frenzy throughout the ship intensified as the lights automatically dimmed, red emergency lights coming on as power was diverted to the ship's shielding. “Enemy ships are firing at us with large caliber linear cannons! Shielding is holding, and no notable damage has developed yet!” was shouted from below.

Before Willow could even attend to the attacks on the Andromeda, another officer shouted, “Deployment of enemy fighters is confirmed! They are proceeding on an intercept course with the alert fighters! Numbers appear to be around sixty, with an estimated twenty fighters from each ship!”

“Enemy identification has been confirmed! Ravager-class cruisers; they're rebel ships!”

“All personnel to battle stations! I want our own cannons manned and firing on the enemy cruisers, but don't compromise shield integrity! Scramble two more squadrons to intercept the enemy fighters; don't let them get near us!” Willow yelled out, hands flying across her holographic displays as she worked at analyzing the situation.

“Roger! Proceeding to load Vesper Squadron Beta into launch tubes; first launch will be ready in two minutes!”

In the void of space, the battle had finally begun. The powerful yet slow firing linear cannons of the Ravager cruisers pierced towards the Andromeda at regular intervals, impacting with the Andromeda's shields as they worked at weakening it. Meanwhile the Andromeda's gun batteries had also begun to fire; a mixture of fast railguns and slow linear cannons similar to the enemy's returning the blows in kind. While the enemy's weapons were individually stronger than the Andromeda's, the larger ship had the advantage in terms of sheer numbers of weapons and variety between them. Single barreled Linear cannon turrets were mounted both dorsally and ventrally along the Andromeda, providing the main firing force against enemy ships at such a distance. As the cannons had to recharge between each shot, their rate of fire was less than the pivoting, double-barreled railguns mounted along all sides of the ship. As the railguns also had a shorter range, they weren't much help in directly attacking the enemy ships but rather in preventing any enemy fighters from getting closer.

While the larger ships fought each other, the friendly and enemy fighters engaged each other in a swarming cloud between them, each side trying to advance on the enemy's ship to assist in pinpoint disabling of specific systems. The Andromeda's alert squadron of twenty Vespers was drastically outmatched by the enemy's greater numbers, but before the fight could become too one-sided the next squadron of Vespers began to launch, fighters barreling out of the launch tubes and swerving about to face the main fight, rocketing in using high-speed mode before switching to the more agile combat mode to engage the enemy. The Andromeda's deployed fighter count doubled and with another squadron already loading into the launch tubes, Willow was relieved to see that it looked like they had the fight under control.

Indeed, the Andromeda's attacks on one of the enemy cruisers had managed to penetrate through its kinetic shielding, the gaping hole in its defenses proving a valuable opportunity. Willow immediately ordered for all cannons to concentrate fire on the disabled cruiser, and after only a few volleys of linear cannon fire it was evident that the ship couldn't take much more. A small group of three Vespers detached from the main fight and rocketed towards the damaged cruiser, missiles unfolding from where they were stored in the nose of the fighter. As the cruiser tried to flee from the battle, the Vespers launched their missiles at the ship's engines before breaking away again, pealing back to avoid incoming railgun fire from the closest of the remaining two cruisers. Out of the six missiles that had been launched, only two were able to be destroyed, the other four impacting with the damaged ship's engines and sparking a chain reaction, a large explosion blowing off the entire rear of the ship in a burst of fire, fueled by the oxygen and fuel that had been in the engines. Left to drift helplessly, Willow turned her focus back to disabling the remaining two cruisers and fending off their fighters from getting close to the Andromeda.

The third squadron of Vespers was deployed from the Andromeda as the first of the cruisers was disabled, the enemy ships now seeming to realize how outclassed they were. With the same number of friendly and enemy squadrons fighting now, the more agile and powerful Vespers were easily able to decrease the numbers of enemy fighters, to the point that half a squadron of Vespers could be spared to split off to attack the second cruiser. Under the combined power of the Andromeda's own weapons and the Vesper's accurate attacks against the weakest portion of the cruiser's shields, the second cruiser quickly fell much like the first one, Vespers launching their missiles at its engines as soon as its shields were gone in order to prevent it from escaping the scene.

With only one cruiser remaining and the enemy fighter count down to less than thirty, Willow felt confident that the little engagement could only end in their own overwhelming victory. With only five Vespers destroyed so far and all of the pilots safely ejected from their fighters and maneuvered to the fringes of the battle, the Andromeda hadn't had a single casualty yet.

Down in the chaotic hanger deck, Zack was fascinated as he watched the activity that was going into loading the fourth and final of the Andromeda's operable squadrons into the launch tubes in case Willow commanded they be launched . A team of mechanics was assigned to each fighter, examining it and making sure that it was ready to fly before it was even moved to the launch tube entrance. At the same time, other people in his unit were hovering over a holographic display on the wall, outputing various information about the state of the battle and the Andromeda itself, as well as images taken from cameras positioned over the ship's hull.

I'll be one of those pilots eventually, flying out to fight against the rebels, protecting Earth and its colonies... I suppose it's sort of ironic that I want to protect the Earth so much, when I don't even like most of the people on it. I suppose even I can shed my hate for the safety of the entire world, though.

By this point, Willow had all but confirmed their victory. The final cruiser was taking heavy damage, and it wouldn't be long before its shields failed completely. One by one the Vesper pilots were picking off enemy fighters, those few who managed to get close to the Andromeda being torn to shreds by railguns. Just as Willow began to relax, however, another ship appeared out of nowhere.

Willow's eyes snapped open wide as the fourth ship seemed to warp into view, space distorting around it as it appeared. Very few ships currently built were equipped with any kind of warp drive, and they were all militarily owned. Even the Andromeda, advanced as she was, had to rely on sublight cruising speeds. “Get me an ID on that ship, now!” Willow yelled.

“I've got nothing, sir! It's also not sending any identification codes, and its design is completely unlike anything stored in the computer!”

The new ship slowly approached the battle, its main body shaped like a long, pointed dagger with two wing-like protrusions sticking out from either side of what would be the blade. Upon zooming her visual image of the ship further in, she noticed that the four protrusions appeared to have some sort of weapons mounted on them, but their tapering barrel design was unlike anything she had seen before. Farther back along the ship a pair of slanted wings, each with two built-in engines making them functionally equivalent to the Andromeda's engine pods, were attached to the rear of the ship's main body. Between the wings and protruding up from the top of the rear of the ship was a rounded bulge, no doubt where its bridge was positioned. Overall the ship wasn't extremely impressive size-wise, being larger than the cruisers but still only about half the size of the Andromeda.

“All attempts to hail unknown ship are failing! Again, it won't receive our communications!”

Willow grimaced and narrowed her eyes. Dammit, is this the rebels still? Have they chosen us to test their new ship on? “Split off a contingent of Vespers to intercept the new ship! As soon as the final cruiser and enemy fighters are down, refocus our attack on the unknown!”

The new ship was still a ways off, so for the moment it wasn't of much concern to the immediate battle with the final cruiser and fighters. The cruiser, already heavily damaged before the new ship had appeared, quickly fell, its engines once again being disabled by the Vespers and leaving it drifting in space for pickup by military cleanup crews later. The enemy fighters also seemed to be trying to flee the battle, and interestingly Willow noticed that they seemed to be heading towards the new ship. So they are together...

“Sir, we have a visual on the ship's name!”

“Bring it up,” Willow commanded. Another holographic window opened, displaying a zoomed in image of the side of the new ship's hull. Etched into the dull gray steel was “CFS Avalon

The Avalon, huh? Willow thought. But I don't recognize the prefix... If I'd hazard a guess, the FS likely stands for flagship, but who does it belong to?

Before she could think any more about the ship's name, the Avalon suddenly fired upon the Andromeda. It was still far out of the range of conventional linear cannons, however it quickly became apparent that its weapons were anything but conventional anyways. Sparks flew and sirens blared as the single shot cut through the Andromeda's kinetic shield like butter, impacting the side of her hull, the beam that the Avalon had fired searing through several decks and rooms for a full second before it shut off. Immediately bulkheads snapped closed to seal off the parts of the ship that had been exposed to space, the bridge dissolving into panic.

“Kinetic shields have failed! Enemy weapon appears to be energy based, with a range far longer than conventional kinetic weapons!”

“Activate the energy shields, divert all power to them!” Willow commanded, controlling her panic. The energy shields were never designed to protect against focused weapons-fire, but by providing them with as much power as the Andromeda could muster they could at least buy themselves some time.

“Energy shields are up! All systems deemed non-vital have been disabled and all power reserves have been routed to shields!”

“Energy buildup in Avalon detected! Weapons-fire is imminent!”

Almost as soon as it had been reported the Avalon fired again, but this time not at the Andromeda. Surprisingly, it began firing on the disabled cruisers, the drifting ships breaking up and exploding one by one as the ship that Willow had speculated had been their own ally finished them off. Meanwhile Willow ordered the Andromeda to put as much distance between them and the Avalon as possible, unsure of rather it would choose to attack them again. After the cruisers had each been destroyed, smaller energy weapons mounted along the tapered leading edge of the Avalon began firing on the enemy fighters that had been fleeing towards it, who had presumably been hoping they would be taken aboard, not destroyed. The Vesper squadrons began to return to the Andromeda, but before they could reach safety, panels on the top and bottom of the Avalon slid open and small, dart-like fighters swarmed out and converged on the Vespers.

“No heat signatures detected within Avalon's fighters, they're drones! Numbers are in the hundreds, all from one ship!”

“Scramble Delta and Epsilon Squadrons in emergency launches! I want every pilot we have out there, even if they've only had a single flight!” Willow yelled. The decision to launch even the trainees was tough to make, but with the numbers of drones the Avalon was launching and the energy-based weapons they were sure to be armed with, she knew that just four squadrons totaling eighty fighters wouldn't be enough to hold them off.

Receiving the order down in the hanger deck, Lance ran over to where the trainees were huddled about the various information displays. “All right, ensigns! Consider this a trial by fire, you're being launched to help fend off the drones this new ship is launching! I know none of you have any combat experience and I really don't want to have to do this, but I don't have a choice here. Just stick close to the Andromeda—although make sure you don't drift into her line or fire or shield—and pick off any drones that gets too close. Let the enemy come to you, do not go after them. Understand?”

There was an outcry of protest from the trainees, but Lance merely shook his head. “Look, the Captain herself ordered this, and in a way I do agree with her. Without Epsilon Squadron the Andromeda could only field eighty fighters and five of them were downed by enemy fighters in the first attack. We need all the numbers we can out there, so get moving! You all know how to fly, so you don't do too bad!”

As much as the trainees disliked the idea, they knew they had no choice. Grudgingly everyone snapped on their helmets and hurried to their Vespers, climbing into them as mechanics performed system checks. As Zack fell into his seat, he noticed the Vespers of Delta Squadron sliding into their launch tubes as they prepared to launch and tried to calm his nerves. He knew how to launch and land properly as well as the basics of flying, but more advanced tactics and actually attacking enemies was unknown to him yet. Settling into the cockpit, the harness flipped down over him and the canopy closed. To his left he lightly gripped the control for primary throttle, his thumb resting on a wheel at the end of the throttle control that adjusted the thruster throttle. On his right was the joystick that controlled the rotation of the thrusters and thus the direction of the ship, however due to the lack of drag in space, controlling the Vesper wasn't as simple as pushing the stick in the direction he wanted to turn. More importantly to him at the moment was the trigger positioned under his right index finger for firing the twin railguns mounted on either side of the fuselage, and the cover on the top of the joystick that hid the button for deploying missiles.

It's not that I don't want to fight, especially against lifeless drones, but am I really ready yet? I mean, I've fired a gun plenty of times, but never anything like in these fighters. Well, I guess I might as well get started now; I won't learn without practice. Yeah, that's what I'll call this, practice. These aren't drones out to kill us, no, they're just targets that I need to take down in order to get better.

Zack's Vesper suddenly began to move along its path, the magnetic track carrying it to the door of one of the launch tubes. Sliding into the ground the door opened up, allowing the Vesper to advanced into the tight, square tube that the Vesper would be launched from. The Vesper was carried to the end of the magnetic track, sitting at the rear of the launch tube as the airlock door closed behind it again. A voice then spoke into Zack's helmet, “Atwater, this is control requesting confirmation of flight status.”

Zack scanned over the various readouts on the panel between his legs. Everything looked normal, so he said back to flight control, “All systems are green. I am ready for launch.”

“Affirmative, standby for launch. Charging linear catapult.”

Zack gripped his controls more tightly as he heard the hum of the linear catapult that propelled the Vespers out of the launch tubes at high speeds. Various heads-up displays activated across the glass of his helmet's visor, displaying much of what the Vesper's console also showed but without the need to look down. As the hum of the catapult grew louder, the door at the end of the launch tube slid open, exposing the tube to space.

“Control here. Atwater, you have permission to launch. Prepare for launch in three...two...one...”

As soon as the voice counted all the way down, Zack was pushed back in his seat as the Vesper suddenly rocketed forwards, propelled solely by electromagnetic force. The force was so much that he felt the Vesper rise up slightly as it tried to perfectly suspend itself within the magnetic field. This lift cued Zack to retract the landing gear, which finished pulling up into the underside of the Vesper just as the fighter cleared the end of the tube, bursting out into space. For a moment Zack's Vesper drifted free without power, but before even a full second had passed he activated the control that flipped his wings down, spreading them at his sides. At the same time the maneuvering thrusters popped off from along the trailing edge of the wings, both primary engines and thrusters lighting up at once. Keeping the throttle low, Zack cleared the launch path of the Andromeda and rose up above the ship, turning about to come to face the swarm of drones that had descended upon the battlecarrier and its fighters.

The drones darted about, firing beams of energy from their pointed noses at both fighters and the Andromeda alike. Zack noticed that it didn't seem like they particularly favored any one target, rather just going after whatever was attacking them most. Fortunately, they didn't seem to be invincible, and the combined railguns of both Vespers and the Andromeda were gradually eating away at the sheer numbers of enemy drones. Zack noticed a drone heading his way and quickly banked off to the side, flipping around as he did so and orienting himself towards the drone. As the drone maneuvered to face him, he quickly lined it up in his sights and pulled down on the trigger. A steam of bullets fired from his twin railguns at a high rate, shredding through the lightly shielded and slower turning drone before it could even orient itself all the way. Relieved that the drones didn't seem to be that hard one on one, he moved closer to the hull of the Andromeda, ensuring that he kept a good distance above its shield. As he skimmed over the shield he took careful shots at any lone drones, even assisting some other trainees in his squadron when he came across them.

Feeling good with himself after destroying five drones, he moved farther away from the shield, quickly taking in the status of the fight. The Vespers were slowly but surely cutting down the numbers of drones, which had by now been reduced to around eighty of the original more than one-hundred fifty. All the while, off in the distance, the Avalon sat motionless as if observing the fight. Feeling confident, he powered closer to the main fight, opening fire on the nearest drone he saw. It seemed to be alone, but as soon as Zack shot at it he found himself surrounded by three more drones. “Crap!” He yelled, banking down and hurrying out of the mass of drones as fast as he could. Unfortunately they proved persistent and turned to give chase, firing off shots which Zack barely was able to avoid. Knowing that he needed to move faster, he flipped a switch to set the Vesper to high-speed mode. He could feel the wings sweep back and the thrusters lock out to the side with minimal rotation available, the engines powering up to their fullest. When in combat mode the engine's output was limited to prevent strain on the fighter due ot its high maneuverability, but when the Vesper limited its own agility, it was possible to ramp up the engines to full. Rocketing away from the fight, Zack saw in a rear-view display that the drones were starting to fall back since they couldn't keep up any longer. Before he could celebrate, though, one of the drones fired off another shot, grazing his left engine.

The engine instantly failed, the Vesper spinning out of control. Trying to remain calm while cursing to himself all the while, Zack cut power to the right engine, frantically moving the thrusters about to arrest his crazy spiral deeper into space. Gradually he managed to slow down and bring the fighter under control again, but without one of his engines he was a complete sitting duck. To make matters worse, he noticed the drones that had been chasing him approaching on his position. Using the minimal movement allowed by his still functioning thrusters, he adjusted his aim so that he was aiming straight into their midst. He was just about to pull the trigger, but suddenly someone yelled at him through his helmet.

“No, dun' shoot now! They 'ould destroy you from that range if they 'anted to, but they 'aven't yet!” the voice said. Zack didn't recognize them, and so assumed they had to be in one of the other four squadrons and not a trainee.

“Then why are they coming my way?” Zack asked back, hesitating on pulling the trigger.

“'Ow should I know? Maybe they want to probe or a'duct you. Whatever the 'ase, let me take 'are of 'em! Yeehaw, baby!”

Suddenly another Vesper shot out from behind Zack in high-speed mode, switching to combat mode in the same instant in which it fired off a round of missiles at the drones. The drones noticed the missiles and began to drift apart to let them pass, while at the same time the new Vesper broke away upwards before looping down again, firing not at the drones but the missiles as he came back down. Zack realized with surprise that he hadn't meant for the missiles to hit the drones at all, he had known they'd be able to avoid them. He just wanted to get the missiles in their midst before blowing them up himself. His shots right on target, the missiles exploded, taking out all three of the drones with them. Still dropping down, the Vesper burst through the cloud of smoke from the missiles before turning up again, flying next to Zack's fighter.

Zack looked over and tried to see the pilot through his canopy, but he was wearing a bulky and ungainly flight suit that made it impossible for Zack to make anything out. “'Ey there, 'ow you say I protect you? I was watchin' you earlier, you 'eren't so bad for a fresh 'un. Just got a little too 'aught up in the heat of battle, but 'ey, it 'appens to everyone sometime. I only 'xpect one thing out a this, deal?”

“Yeah, um, sure.” The pilot seemed friendly enough, but it had just become part of Zack's nature to be wary of people he didn't know acting overly friendly.

“I 'ant to get to know you, ya 'ear? Want to talk. Not too often fresh 'uns come 'board; I just wanna 'ear what's goin' on down on our big 'unk of rock.”

“I...guess. Sure, why not? I just want one more thing too, what's your name? I'm Zack, before you ask.” Zack decided to go with him, since he didn't really have any other choice. It wouldn't hurt to meet new people anyways.

“Name's Jet, least that's what people call me. Zack, huh? Like it, 'ool name. I'll 'eep a eye on you, 'kay? I 'ike you, dun' want you to die on me, ya know. Later!”

Jet's Vesper took off, rising up above Zack's. Zack watched as Jet followed a generally circular path around where he drifted motionless, shooting down any drones that came close. Occasionally a larger group would come, which Jet would distract and take out if he could, or stall until another Vesper passed by and assisted. All the while Zack sat motionless, hand away from the joystick so that he wouldn't shoot any drone; he definitely did not want to bring any down on himself when he couldn't even move.

I see, this is why I want to fight so badly. I want to protect the weak, those who can't protect themselves. Like I did back in the subway, where I saved that old man, and like Jet is. I want to be a beacon of hope against the many Pokémon who bully and abuse people, protecting their victims. That is why I am here and why space has always been my goal, not just to get away from Pokémon, but to protect, and be the hope of all the hopeless.

The battle raged on for about twenty more minutes after Zack was disabled. As Jet buzzed about him, he sat and watched the fight, making the best of his situation and observing how the evidently more experienced pilot flew, nimbly rolling out of the way of shots at the very last second, breaking off at insane angles that used not just the power of their thrusters and engines to move, but also made full use of the momentum they had to carry them through. The way the more experienced pilots flew looked almost as if they were ice-skating in three dimensions to Zack, sliding about so nimbly that they could fly right through a cluster of drones, cut their main engines, turn around with their thrusters, and then fire at them while gliding backwards before powering on their engines again and diving downwards.

The fewer drones there were left, the smarter they seemed to get, and Zack speculated that they might actually be learning the tricks and maneuvers the experienced pilots used. He knew it was possible to build AIs that could learn based off not only their own experience but other's too in a sort of shared consciousness, but he had never seen such a system implemented like this before. Could that be the true purpose of this skirmish, then? To train their collaborative AI at the expense of all that ended up destroyed? There was no way to know of course, and regardless all Zack could do was sit and watch. At last the number of drones had been reduced to only about ten, those ten fleeing back to the Avalon rather than wait to be destroyed. No one bothered to pursue them either, there was no reason too. Kill a pilot and the enemy lost all their experience, but a machine's experience didn't mean much, especially if they truly did share a distributed AI.

The Avalon turned around and began to fly away, the Andromeda giving pursuit. However, to shake the Andromeda off its tail, the Avalon fired off two shots of its energy weapons backwards at the Andromeda, the shots impacting with the energy shield and creating visible ripples throughout it, but fortunately the shield managed to hold. Zack wasn't sure that it would last much longer though, which meant it was all the better that the Avalon didn't seem to want to actually destroy the Andromeda, it just didn't want her following. Not like the Andromeda would be able to follow for long anyways, as as soon as it had picked up the last of the drones it warped off again, seeming to slip between the folds of space and out of existence just as quick as it had appeared.

Zack sighed as yells and shouts went out across the radios, filling his helmet with the sounds of victory. Not a true victory, but they had at least managed to protect themselves. There had been a cost, however; two or three pilots had been shot down, and Zack later found out that around twenty crew-members had died during the Avalon's initial attack, whether because of being hit directly by the beam or ending up flushed to space. As a recovery craft towed him into the landing deck, he nodded through his canopy to Jet, flying alongside him before breaking off to an empty elevator of his own. As Zack deployed his landing gear and folded up his wings the recovery craft set him down on the ground of the landing deck, the magnetic tracks taking over his movement.

As he was pulled onto the elevator and descended to the hanger deck, Zack was conflicted as to whether he should feel exhilarated for taking part in his first fight with very little experience, or aggravated for having been disabled so easily. As soon as he could he opened his canopy and took off his cockpit, rubbing his eyes before looking up and out at the hanger deck.

“Yo, Erik! 'Lad to see I did my part!”

Zack's eyes widened as he saw who he assumed was Jet, standing off to the side and walking along next to Zack's Vesper as it moved to a maintenance area to be repaired. “You...you're a...” he stuttered, unable to believe it.

“A Pokémon? A Floatzel? I 'et that a lot, the surprise 'ears off quickly.” Jet's oversized flight suit hung loosely over his furred body, a rubbery floatation tube wrapping around the back of his neck necessitating the bulky yet loose fitting when outside the cockpit flight suit. Zack know realized why the helmet he carried under a paw was oversized, it was needed to fit his snout in.

This isn't like the surprise of other's, this is like...betrayal... He saved me, he wants to be my friend, yet...he's a Pokémon? Why would he do this, want this? Why is he here, of all places? Gulping and controlling his wild emotions the best he could, Zack decided to just outright ask him. “Why are you here? I thought no Pokémon wanted to join the space navy, or be in space at all.”

“Hah, everyone ask me that at some point. You? Right away. See, I like that. 'Ell, I'm 'ere 'cause I want ta be, simple as that. There's nothin' sayin' Pokémon can't join the space navy, mos' just dun' want ta. Back on Earth, I grew tired of surfin' the waves, so I decided ''ey, why not surf the stars?' Pa said it was a stupid dream, that I 'ould ne'er make it, but 'ey, look at me now! Not jus' that, though. Me like to 'elp people, rescue them. Save the drownin'. No drownin' in space, not withou' death, but I can still rescue people like you.”

His dream was to come to the stars, just like me... I had thought my reason for coming here at first was to get away, but now I now see it's so much more than that. I want to protect people, just let Jet wants to save people...

Feeling uneasy, Zack slowly climbed out of his Vesper, walking over to Jet; he noticed that he was taller than the Floatzel by about six inches. Placing a shaking hand on Jet's shoulder, Zack tried to smile, his inner conflicts pulling the edges of his mouth every which way. “I...I think we need to talk. Later...”

As Zack slid down to the ground, Jet caught him and eased him down, grinning over him as Zack fainted. “Yah! 'Ey, after you wake, we talk. You tell me 'bout Earth, and anythin' else you want, 'kay?.”


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The Andromeda had to return to Earth after the encounter with the Avalon. Command wanted to know everything that the Andromeda had learned about the new ship and its technologies, as well as review the various videos of the encounter. During that time all of the trainee's flight practice had to be put on hold which didn't bother anyone very much; the fight had been more than enough practice for most of them for a long while. Zack was also too busy to worry about practice, he had a friend to talk with.

Zack ended up telling Jet everything. He didn't know how the Floatzel would take it, but the surprise at seeing a Pokémon aboard the Andromeda had sent Zack over the edge. He no longer knew what to believe, and had to get it off his chest somehow. As soon as he woke up he told Jet about his hatred for Pokémon, how he had always viewed them as criminals trying to usurp humans and take their place, how he had shot those two Machoke not solely to save the old man, but also because he wanted them to feel pain. He told him of the incident in grade school he had seen with the Machop bullying the other kid, and how that may have been the root of his problem, or at least the spark that set off something he had always had. Surprisingly, Jet took it well.

“So you 'ate Pokémon? I dun' believe you. There's more; you just lyin' to yourself, sayin' you 'ate Pokémon so you dun' have ta face your real fear. I can see it in you, the waves of your soul in your eyes. You better than that,” Jet scoffed.

Zack remained still, holding a cup of water with both hands in his lap, drawing lines in the water droplets that covered its surface. Hiding something... But... “I don't remember anything...” he whispered. “I don't remember anything that happened when I was even younger. Nothing before that year when I saw the Machop bullying the kid. I thought it was just too long ago, too distant a memory, but...you think I'm hiding something there?”

“Could be. 'Ould be not. You have to fin' out you'self, sometime, some'ow. All I can say is that whatever happen', it's the source. It's the core, the ripple that started the wave. Only your waves, they be calmin' down. I see them. You see me and see I'm 'ike you. You 'ate me, so you 'ate you. But you dun' want to 'ate you, no one does. So you confuse', and now, you calm down. You reconsider, you rethink. You ask you'self why you can' like me, like you'self, and you answer, you dun' know why not.”

Zack lowered his eyes as he pressed his thumbs against the glass of the cup, as if trying to break it. What's wrong with me...? Dammit, he's right. I don't even know... I've always labeled Pokémon as being criminals, all of them, and ignored anything contrary. Now I can't ignore this... “But I don't want to admit I'm wrong...” Zack said quietly, continuing his thoughts verbally. “I don't want to just say that all this time, I've been wrong to think like I have been.”

“Listen', you dun' hate Pokémon, that fact. If you did, you 'ave shot me the momen' you lay eyes on me, like those Machoke, hah! You say you shot 'em outta hate, but no, you shot 'em to protect the old 'un. That it.”

After Zack didn't respond, Jet stood up from his chair and walked over next to Zack's bed, grabbing a hand in one of his paws. “Look, we be frien's, yah? I show you how you wrong, and fore'er we be friends. I got you back if you get shot again, and you got mine. Then when not shot, we can protec' and save people, yah?”

Zack closed his eyes, his fingers sliding down the sides of the glass. Slowly he opened his eyes again, and looked up at the expectant Floatzel hovering over him. “Yah,” he quietly said, mimicking Jet's broken English.

Jet burst out laughing, and roughly pulled Zack up. “Yah, you bet! You, me, we be one, friends! Two waves merge to make one stronger, that be us! You see, I show you!”

Zack couldn't help but smile slightly, and as he did so he could feel something seem to wash off him, as if he had finally been able to drop a weight he had been carrying for years. After going on for so long, hiding what I thought was myself from the world, I just end up now and see that I was wrong all along... I wasn't hiding anything from anyone but myself. I still may not know what happened so long ago to cause this in the first place, what planted the seed that grew so fast, but for now maybe I can be happy, and finally, really, be who I want to be.

Jet dragged Zack out of bed with surprising strength and pulled him out into the hall, dragging him along to who knows where. Going along with it, Zack stumbled after the Floatzel, feeling the weight of a thousand lies fall off behind him. He knew it wouldn't be as simple as that, and that he couldn't get completely over his hate just by having talked to Jet, but he knew he was on the path now. Jet had convinced him to see the truth, and now that he saw his hate for what it is, he could work on getting rid of it for good.

“Hey, Jet?” Zack hazarded, stopping in the middle of the hall and stepping off to the side.

“Huh?” Jet looked back curiously.

“When we get the time, promise to show me just how you pulled off some of those maneuvers you did, and maybe, just maybe, I won't put a bullet between your eyes,” Zack joked, grinning.

“Yah!” Jet exclaimed before taking off again, Zack running after.

End of Waves