Sunday, October 27, 2013
MANDALORIAN BROTHER LOST
As he began waking from his trauma induced sleep, Captain Ridge became immediately focused. His training in special ops would not let him panic. On the flip side, he was fairly certain he was up to his shebs in trouble. Question was what kind of trouble. Where was the rest of his squadron? Why were there no incoming comlink transmissions requesting his status? Where in the universe had his blind hyper jump landed him?
The automated systems of his ship were shrieking so many warnings and alarms that an ordinary man would have been driven beyond distraction into pure panic. He knew panic only as an act of a cornered animal lashing out to survive at all costs. That is what had driven him to this moment. But, now was the moment for the actions of a decisive man. His survival depended on it.
One glance out the forward viewport and he knew he was in deep bantha poodoo. In the battle he had been engaged in before his hyper jump, he had been dodging everything from proton torps, asteroids of every size, friends and foes locked in heated dogfights and the flotsam of rampant destruction, including the lifeless bodies of his comrades gone evac. There had been no time to mourn then and there was no time for it now. If he hoped to rejoin his cadre some day, he had to act swiftly now.
“Nine-Eight, kill the autopilot now!” he yelled into his helmet mic. “Give me a status on hull integrity and life support!” “And kill those alarms too!!”
“Hull integrity is at 90% and life support is failing. There is a hull breach in the repair bay. Captain Ridge, you must return to autopilot and make immediate repairs on that breach or your survival is not likely.”
A temporary oxygen supply helmet ejected from its cubby to the left of his seat. He pulled off his bucket, replaced it with the survival helmet and rushed down the corridor for the repair bay door. He came to an abrupt halt when he remembered that his flight crew had installed a new generation astromech droid just before this last battle. He opened his comlink and shouted an order for the droid to take care of the breach ASAP. Ridge spun about and double-timed it back towards the ships command center.
He received a barrage of buzzes, clicks, and screeches that let him know the droid was on it.
Upon re-entering the command center Ridge was confronted with his ever concerned security droid. “Sir, we are coming in too hot. I cannot recommend this course of action at this time.”
“Nine-Eight, can your pleasantries now or I’ll pull your tinnie plug!”
Go help the new R unit with the fixes in the repair bay now. That’s an order!
Ridge threw the last of the switches that relinquished full control over to him and immediately he was in his element. All of his pilot training and experience on the battlefield kicked into high gear. The world before him was rapidly filling the forward viewport. He had little time to notice how beautiful it was, with its massive oceans and continents with almost every terrain imaginable. All Ridge knew was that if he did not slow his descent, then he would flame out like just one more non-descript asteroid burning its way into the atmosphere.
“Nine-Eight,” he said, “do you have the systems up enough that I can bring the braking thrusters online. I need them at full power. Tell me some good news!”
He desperately needed some good news. The memories of the battle that landed him here were starting to flood back to him now. The desperation to help his many brothers and the inability to be ten different places at once were nearly enough to drive him mad. The dogfight he was forced into that caused him to pull a truly desperate act. A micro-jump while in-system and surrounded by thousands of ships and randomly drifting asteroids. Knowing that it was probably just suicide and possibly the act of a coward, he needed to live long enough to turn his flight from avoiding slaughter into something redemptive.
“Nine-Eight, where are those thrusters?”
“Coming online now sir!”
He slowed his ship to the point that he could enter the atmosphere at a less steep angle. Suddenly a proximity alarm began screaming for his attention. “Where am I?” “How can there be a missile lock on me?” No time to waste.
It’s going to get rough back there!” Hang on to your shebs!
“Sir?!” Nine-Eight shrieked. “Ohhh, we’re doomed!”
“Not yet, we aren’t,” Ridge said reassuringly.
Systems showed the missile coming up fast from the port side. He could not get a read on the make. The system just labeled it as explosive. The yield was enough to vaporize a medium size city on an average world.
“Overkill if you ask me! Here goes! Hang on!”
Ridge knew that even though this ship was a good deal larger than the one or two man fighters he had formerly spent so much time in, this one was a rare bird. It was rumored to be modeled after a prototype ship that Vader’s now deserted apprentice, “Starkiller,” had used as a mobile base in his hunt for the rogue Jedi that had escaped Order 66.
The missile was fast, but how maneuverable?
Ridge yanked the control yoke hard to starboard and began a nearly out of control descending spiral down and away from the missile. As he spun the ship down and around he caught sight of his adversary.
“That thing is huge! And, what an antique!” The missile was actually spewing fire out its backside and the ships computer indicated that the propellant was something that had not been used in the Republic for centuries. Ridge was confident he would be able to outmaneuver the piece of outdated tech, but he had no idea what its kill radius was.
“Nine-Eight!! Use the scanners and find me some orbital junk!
He had to lose the missile before it was joined by any friends or worse yet, any starfighters.
“Sir, I’ve found what appears to be a failing space station about 20,000 clicks to our starboard.”
Ridge wrenched the control yoke and brought the ship out of its rolling spiral and accelerated to maximum towards the as yet unseen space station. A few moments later, it came into view.
“You call that a space station!?” It was barely bigger than the ship he was in now. The hull appeared to have been compromised and if there ever was life in the station, it was long dead judging by the state it was in now.
No time to worry about investigating now. Luckily, there was a trail of large and small parts from the damaged station trailing out for hundreds of clicks beyond it. This was the break he had been looking for. He began weaving the ship quickly through the debris, hoping that the missile had no advanced tracking abilities onboard.
Since Ridge had straightened his trajectory, the missile had immediately begun gaining on him. He hoped that his gamble would pay off. Shortly after Ridge cleared the debris field the missile connected with the station. He immediately found out what the missile’s payload was.
The shockwave caught up in a split second and suddenly the whole world was buried in the roar of his ship being hurled planetside.
In an instant Ridge was airborne and remembering why locking down his crash harness was always a good idea. And the shrieks of two suddenly weightless and tumbling droids confirmed this thought.
Somehow, Ridge clung to consciousness and clawed his way back to the command chair. He had to get this baby back level and bring the atmospheric drives up before he turned into a shiny metal comet.
“Nine-Eight! Is that R unit done with repairing the burned out atmospheric drive conduit?!” “I need to be online yesterday!”
Ridge received a frantic static filled reply.
“What do you mean he’s not done,” Ridge barked into his mic.
“Sometimes I forget why we ever created you tinnies.” Ridge bellowed to no one in particular. “Because we needed something to be more expendable than us meatcans, that’s why!” “Ha! C’mon you two, let’s get this fancy ship operational so I can at least avoid ending up as a pretty red puddle in the middle of a crater!”
Then over the com he heard a fast chorus of beeps and whistles. “Nine-Eight, what did that stubby can just say?”
“Sir, he says you can light up your braking thrusters now. And, I hesitate to say this sir, but he says he thinks we’re not alone.”
“Really? You think? Remind me to give “stubby” a trophy later for stating the obvious.
Ridge flipped the toggles to kick in the braking thrusters and was greeted with an unwelcome cough and shake from the now active system.
“C’mon baby, give me a little break here!” He pounded the control console in frustration and in an instant was greeted with green lights and a growing roar as the braking thrusters suddenly came to life. The system immediately maxxed due the speed in which the ship was rocketing toward the planets surface.
“Give me a status report!” He shouted, “I need to know if any of the braking flaps have been damaged.”
Ridge could hear the astromech whistling and screeching rapidly over the comm. system. Nine-Eight responded in a voice as close as exasperated as Ridge had ever heard from a tinnie. “What do you mean, the flaps may not hold! Get back to work and re-calibrate the actuators and hope that you don’t get us all vaporized!”
“Captain Ridge, sir. Our little friend will be correcting the problem with those flaps immediately.”
“Well, we’ll know all too soon if the flaps will hold. Prepare for a heavy pounding back there boys!”
The instrument panel began flashing out a warning. No alarms blared, but the ablative shielding on the forward sections of the ship visible from the forward viewport began glowing in the reds and oranges one would expect in a foundry. The ship began shaking and an ever growing rumble, more felt than heard made its way through the deck and command chair. This brought a grin, almost feral, to Ridge’s face. Living one moment from death was nothing new in his brief experience in the universe.
Ridge had a brief thought whether he should have taken Kal Skirata up on an offer to walk away from the GAR only a short time before the battle that had so unceremoniously dumped him here. Wherever here was. But there was no time for such thoughts when one was about to become one with the universe by flaming out in some backwater world’s atmosphere.
Ridge’s attention was pulled back into focus by a cockpit alarm and then the ship’s automated systems voice explaining that the ship would overheat and burn unless something was done to slow it down, soon.
Ridge called out, “Where are those braking flaps?!
“Coming online now, sir.” Nine-Eight called out from the engineering compartment.
Not for the first time, Ridge wondered why he ended up with a protocol droid on this ship. He would rather have had an assassin droid or better yet, one of his brothers, once again, a question that was loaded with irrelevance at this point.
Various groans, metallic squeals, and bangs rang out throughout the ship as the braking flaps came online and strained to catch the outer atmosphere to slow the ship to speeds somewhere below suicidal.
To make matters worse, a new warning came up on the threat display. Ridge shut down the warning klaxon but waited for the computer to explain the situation. The voiceover explained that the threat was two unknown atmospheric craft rapidly approaching from the continent directly below him. Though their speed was high, it was not remarkable. Ridge was more concerned about any weapons that they carried and he wasn’t sure how much abuse his shielding could take after the beating it had taken in the last confrontation.
Ridge set the computer to search for any communication signals either coming from the craft themselves or the ground. The computer chimed almost immediately and began piping in the audible signals it was picking up. At first Ridge was unsure what he was hearing, but then he remembered to set the switch for translation mode. After cycling for a few seconds the computer indicated it would provide the best approximation of the local dialect since it did not register as known by the computer.
A hard edged male voice could be heard talking, apparently to the other pilot. “Can you see it yet?”
“No, no visual on the target yet,” Said a clearly female voice.
Ridge thought to himself. Were these civilian craft? He knew it was not unheard of for females to be in the military, but he had never encountered one on the battlefield. That is unless you counted the Jedi. And, he had tried not to spare them too much thought recently.
Ridge’s comm. board lit up and the voices were now more urgent.
The male voice barked, “I’ve marked him. He’s south of us and approaching at a steep angle from your 2 O’clock position.”
“Where... I don’t… Oh wait, I see him. He’s trailing a lot of smoke. Look’s like he’s gotten a bit scorched on re-entry.”
“Yeah, that’ll make him an easier mark.”
Ridge barked, “I wouldn’t count on it!”
Ridge began cycling through his weapons systems to see what their status might be. After the beating that his ship had taken recently, he hoped he just had at least a few tricks to surprise these aruetyc offworlders with.
It was good and it was bad. Only one of his four missile launchers was functional. His particle projection cannons were offline, but his two medium laser cannons were almost back in the green. He only had a few seconds before he knew what he was truly up against.
The male voice came back with, “Unidentified craft. State your allegiance and your intentions immediately or you will be shot down!”
No choice but to hope that the reverse translator was online. “My ship is damaged and needs repairs. I’m not sure what you mean by allegiance, but if you are referring to who I serve, I serve the Grand Army of the Republic. This is a military craft and I need to set down for an assessment and repairs.”
“You serve who?!” said the female voice.
“I said, that I serve the Grand Army of the Republic. You know, the GAR. What planet is this anyway?!”
“What the..? Who or what is the GAR? Listen whoever you are and wherever you’re from, we need you to stand down your weapons systems and ground that scrap pile yesterday!”
Ridge was grinding his teeth in anger now. He was not about to be ordered about by some aruetyc female. Especially not one who called his precious ship a scrap pile. It might be scorched and damaged, but he was sure he could pull out some surprises on these two pilots.
“Nine-Eight, have that little astromech scan those two craft for any shielding that could stop the lasers or the electromag guns.”
Tweetles and buzzes could be heard as the little droid did his job.
“He says they are coated with something that appears capable of absorbing most of the laser energy, but it will not repel the electromag energy.”
“Excellent!” Ridge barked with another of his roguish grins.
He commed the two enemy pilots.
“Are you two sure you want to tangle with this rancor?”
They didn’t know what a rancor was, but the threat from Ridge was not veiled at all.
“Buddy, you’re on!,” growled the male voice.
Unknown to Ridge, the female pilot commed her male counterpart on a secure transmission.
“Deej, are you sure about this? That craft appears to be of a design unknown to our databases. Maybe we better just try and talk him down. I mean, he hasn’t done anything directly against us or our ground bases at this point. And, he has not made any real threat either.”
“Shut your yap Sarah! I’ve been flyin’ since before you entered middle school and my gut is telling me we better finish this guy before all of us regret it. I’m going to force this issue to conclusion now!”
Deej disengaged the safety locks on all of his weapons and accelerated his aircraft into a steep climb on a trajectory that would intercept the offworlder’s craft.
Ridge immediately received a warning from his onboard systems that there were multiple weapon locks on his ship.
“Shab!” Ridge bellowed into his com system. “What are you two up to? I’m warning you now, if you attack me, you won’t survive.”
“We’ll see about that dirtbag!” Came the male voice over the com.
Ridge flicked on his laser targeting and brought his missile system up to standby.
Ridge tried one last time. “Listen, I don’t know who you are or what planet this is, but the last thing I want is to start an intergalactic incident. Stand down and I’ll follow you to wherever you’re based.”
“Nothing doing buddy! Our defense net tagged you as an enemy craft inbound from outside our solar system. You didn’t answer any of our communications when you were inbound and you took out one of our listening posts. You’re done!”
With that, Ridge’s systems began wailing out their warnings of incoming weapons fire.
“Nine-Eight, what are we looking at?”
“Sir, we have incoming two missiles and numerous ballistic rounds of some kind. The rounds are of a large caliber sir. If any penetrate our shielding, they may cause hull breaches.”
Ridge snap rolled his ship and made a run planetward straight towards the male stranger while spinning a large circle around the trajectory of the ballistic rounds.
“Nine-Eight, are the electromags ready to go?”
“Yes sir. I took the liberty of warming them up sir.”
Ridge threw the switches that would start the electromag guns building charges. He was rewarded quickly with a green light letting him know their readiness.
“Bye bye missiles! Ridge was almost giddy with a realization that much of the tech that these enemies were deploying was far outdated by the tech on his ship.
“Aaarggghh! The male voice bellowed over the open channel. “What the frag was that?”
“Get used to disappointment,” Ridge said. “Now, do you want to change your mind? It’s not too late to change the out come here.”
“Not happening dirtbag! You and your scrapheap are gonna be nothing but crater in a minute!” The male voice snapped. This was followed by 2 missiles and a barrage of cannon rounds.
“Have it your way then,” Ridge conceded. Then he fired the automag cannons.
“What the..!!” Then the comm. filled with static.
Ridge verified he’d connected with the enemy as he could see the enemy craft heeled over, engines coughing and flaming out. The craft then went into a crazy dance of out of control flips, cartwheels and flat spins.
Another frantic voice came over the comm. “What have you done to Deej’s plane? Deej! Can you hear me? Try and restart your engines. Deej! Answer me!”
Ridge calmly spoke into his mic. “Deej can’t hear you. My automags fried all his circuits. If he is as good as he claimed, he better go evac before that ship of his disintegrates.”
“Did you have to do that to his ship?”
“If I wanted to live miss, yes. Let’s not forget who the aggressor was here. I had no other options if I was going to keep this “scrap pile” airworthy so that I can hopefully make it home one day. If you promise to hold off firing on me, we can both follow him down and see if he gets out.”
“I’ll hold off if you promise to come with me and face an inquiry by our commanders.”
Ridge’s mind was racing through multiple scenarios. And, none of them seemed promising at the moment. He didn’t have much else to lose at this point.
“Ok missy, let’s follow him dirtside and then we’ll see what happens.”
Ridge kicked the atmospheric thrusters to full throttle and raced planetward attempting to catch up with Deej in what Ridge assumed was a death spiral. As he caught up with Deej’s craft, he could see that he was not unconscious, but instead was frantically trying to get his canopy to open. Ridge was helpless to do anything and in frustration blurted out his first thought over the open mic. “He’s a goner. He’ll never be able to pop the lid in time.”
The female following him then broke in and said, “Thanks bud, for your assessment but I’ll keep hoping.”
“Deej! Deej! Can you hear me? If you can, then give me a thumbs up.
To Ridge’s surprise, Deej did exactly that. “Whoa, that barv’s one strong soldier! I’m not sure many men could keep conscious with all of the g’s that guy is pulling right now?”
The woman’s voice was filled with exasperation. “Nevermind what you think right now! I just want to save my wingman Deej.”
Ridge barked into his comm. “Can you reach your sidearm?”
A thumbs up.
“Blow the lock with a shot or two.” Ridge suggested. “It’s your only chance.”
Ridge saw Deej’s arm come up with a small pistol and then two puffs of smoke or gas breached the canopy near the front of the cockpit. Then Deej hit the ceiling with both hands. The canopy shot quickly out of sight and almost as fast, he was sucked out, or pushed off from the cockpit. Luckily for Deej, he had his crash helmet on and it came with a small oxygen supply connected from cells in his vest. Deej’s flight suit also appeared to have small sections of webbing in the underarms and in the crotch. Deej kicked hard away from his cockpit rim, spun briefly into a fetal position until he was clear of the wreckage and then spread his arms and legs to reveal the webbing there. The webbing caught the air and jerked his body into a slowing descent. Once Deej oriented himself with the landmarks below him, he could be seen to go into several controlled turns and dives that resulted with him angled steeply toward a high plain below a moderately sized mountain range. Some distance to the West of the plain, a river could be seen flowing from North to South. Even farther to the West, a much larger mountain range could be seen, hazy in the distance, but obviously covered in snow at the higher elevations.
Ridge was now sure that he could bring his ship in for a fairly smooth landing, but was increasingly unsure as to whether he would be a free man once he stood dirtside. His astromech was now warning him that there were at least four additional fighter craft coming in from the North and South to prevent him from escaping. Ridge felt he could take on these craft but also knew that in his ships condition, if he sustained much more damage, he would be unlikely to lift off this rock again, let alone finding his way home. Wherever home might be from here.
Ridge’s comm. crackled and shook him out of his thoughts.
“Hey! Are you still with me in there? I need you to follow my directions carefully. That is if you don’t want the rest of these trigger happy flyboys to light you up like a Christmas tree.”
“Nevermind right now. Just stick close and I’ll try and make sure you live long enough to get a hearing. Maybe you’ll get to be a free man if you’re a good boy.”
Ridge just about barked out a harsh reply, but then thought better of it and said, “I’ll do my best to stick close. By the way, I did not get your name miss.”
“I’m not a miss. I am a fighter pilot. But, you can call me Sarah.”
As they approached the valley floor, Ridge realized that this area was a desert and appeared to have no surface water other than the river that sat a number of miles to the West of their location. The installation that they were approaching was large but appeared to be old and spread out over a large area. It did not have the look of a military installation, at least not in comparison to the places he was accustomed to back in the core.
“Miss…, I mean Sarah, what sort of military base is this? Ridge questioned. It does not seem very fortified. Where are the gun emplacements and where are your assault ships stationed? This seems more like a …”
A crackle came over the comm..
“Cut the chatter, whoever you are,” barked a rather stern male voice. “And, Sarah, knock off the info sharing immediately!”
“Alien craft, set your ship down over by the light array to your North East immediately.” Said the same stern voice. “Stand down your weapons, cut power to your primary flight systems, and prepare to be boarded.”
Ridge bit his tongue and responded as if to one of his commanders back in the GAR. “Yes sir. Understood sir.”
Unknown to Ridge, Sarah received a secure transmission from her commander. “Who is this guy? Sir. Yes Sir! Where did you find him anyway? Sounds like the ideal soldier. Ha! We’ll see how respectful he feels after a little interrogation.”
“Commander, I…just… Please remember that this guy saved Deej’s life.
“Yeah, right after he shot his plane full of holes!” He said sarcastically. “At the moment, he is an enemy and he is flying tech that none of us are familiar with. He better be cooperative and he better continue showing respect or he might be spending the rest of his pathetic life in the brig.”
As Ridge brought his ship low over the alien tarmac he was again struck at how old and worn out the facility looked. Sure, the old fashioned runways appeared to have been recently resurfaced, but most of the buildings were of a sort unfamiliar to him. Many of them looked as if they were barely standing and even the sturdier ones were heavily weathered and patched in many places with scraps of metal and what appeared to be wood. Back home in the GAR, most permanent facilities were constructed of ferrocrete and transparisteel. At worst a more temporary setup would be created by linking numerous plasti-form modular units. This appeared to be a pretty backrocket world if he’d ever seen one.
Ridge couldn’t resist showing off his piloting skills to these areutyc, so called pilots. He accelerated towards his final landing position and just as he overshot it, he pitched the ship towards the sky which pushed the inertial dampers screaming to the edge of their limits. At the top of his loop he snap rolled the ship through several complete spins for maximum effect and then he plunged at high speed straight for the ground which produced some loud bangs from somewhere back towards the cargo section. At the bottom of his run he kicked the repulsors to maximum and spun the craft into a sideways slide until he was centered over the tarmac landing lights. He rotated the craft lightly one last time so that he could see his captors approaching him in vehicles from what he assumed must be the command hanger.Ridge could see four small vehicles approaching his ship. As the ship cooled he could hear various pings and ticks as the surface temps dropped. After a moment, he could here Nine-Eight coming up the corridor, apparently grumbling about show off pilots. Ridge laughed uncertainly. Though he was confident he could fight his way out of just about any situation, he was not at all adept at negotiations. And, he was sure this was going to require some new skills on his part.
Here I stand
Across a rich landscape
Of mountains and valleys
I can see the past
Dark days and bright ones too
Loves indelible mark on my soul
Scars speak of battles fought
But here on this high peak
After reaching this midpoint
A decision calls for attention
And I am filled with fear
No stranger to this
Didn’t ask for these burdens
But we all face them
Find solace in experiences shared
And so I move on
For staying means stagnation
No resting on laurels here
Courage creating forward motion
And this bravery you see
Well, it’s not my own
It comes from roots grown deep
Anchored in your promises
But this heart still trembles
Unknown future breathes its threats
And I am tempted to run
From this fight to flee
But instead I cry out
For your hand in mine
And the hands of fellow travelers
Loves and friendships, treasured gifts
Undeserved grace still blesses
And I find my strength
Rise again from my knees
And you lift my chin
You dry these tears
Whisper your promises yet again
And you call me to follow
To enter a battle already won
So here I stand
Looking back has its value
See the altars I lifted here and there
You’re faithfulness proven every time
You’ve never forsaken me
You’ve always been there to catch me
You’ve never left me alone
And for that Dear Jesus I love you
A friend on whom I can always depend
Who understands even my silence
Who will share even my final steps
You are the light in my darkness
You are the truth
The Word that has always been
You are the life pulsing in these old bones
The very breath in these lungs
The breath of God
Spoken into existence by him
Sitting at his right hand
Your life given for mine
My life a one of a kind gift
Given with no strings attached
Wrapped in your love and care
Meant to be given away too
It may take me all my life long
A blink of time in your eyes
And a drop in the ocean of eternity
But I want to give it away as you ask
To be more than the sum of my parts
Your child through and through
Want to see your eyes smiling at mine
To hear you whisper “Well done my son”
And so I take this next step
Set off again on this life road
Take lessons from the past
And look forward with peace in my heart
To where you will lead me next
By Michael Meehan - 10-27-13