September 22, 2010

Assignment to Earth Chapter Twenty-four

The Dragonstar Charys was on the far side of Earth’s moon, hiding from the local satellites. On the bridge, the young woman at the scanner console was quickly becoming confused. She looked at her screens, punched several buttons and again studied the screens before her. A small sound of frustration came from her as she tried once again. With a negative shake of her head, she turned toward the command area. "Colonel?" . "Yes, what is it?" He stepped to her post, standing behind her to look at the screens. "I'm reading a single craft of Klodfon make, but it's transmitting a distress beacon over the Wyvern channel." "Are you sure that ship is the one transmitting the beacon?" "I've checked it twice; see for yourself, Sir." She repeated the sequence of keystrokes, while the colonel watched. “Interesting,” he said. “Can we get an internal scan?” She shook her head. “Not at this distance, but I’m working on it.” He studied the control board a moment longer, coming to a decision. "Send out a patrol to check it out. I want to know who...or what...is in that ship." "Yes, Sir," she replied. As the young woman made arrangements for the patrol to be launched, the Colonel returned to the command post and put in a call to Commander Tyson’s quarters. Although the commander was off-duty, he had asked to be kept informed of what was going on.
* * * * *
"Can't we make verbal contact with the Charys?" Skylar's voice was edged with frustration. He knew they all felt the same...he could hear it in their voices, could sense it in their ragged breathing. The atmosphere in the small Klodfon ship was charged with fear. Jenna shook her head. "We don't have the right frequency. The best we can do is keep transmitting the beacon on the Wyvern channel you already opened.” "Can we voice transmit on that channel?" Glen wanted to know. "No, only send the recorded distress signal." Her voice was flat and unemotional. Skylar let out a breath, trying to think of a way to keep from being blasted out of the sky by the Cavaliers he knew would be launching soon. Glen spoke again. "Is there any way we can change the recording? Could we tell them who we are, maybe kind of like an answering machine does or tap out a Morse code signal?" "Glen, you're brilliant!" Jenna yelped as she quickly turned off the radio, unstrapped her safety harness and crawled under the console. "What's an answering machine?" Skylar and Lissanne asked Glen nearly in unison. Jenna's muffled voice came from under the panel. "It's a...never mind, I'll explain later." Skylar reached over to Jenna's side of the craft and shifted a toggle switch. Looking intently at the numbers scrolling up the screen, one set began to flash. He moved the switch again and a picture flipped up onto the screen. It was the outline of a Dragonstar. Returning the switch to its original position, he noted the closing distance between the small star in the center of the screen and the large circle at the far edge. Two small squares appeared on the screen next to the large circle and moved toward the center star. "They've launched two Wyverns," Skylar announced tersely. "I'm hurrying," Jenna's voice drifted up from under the console. Moments later she crawled out from under it. "That should do it," she said and re-activated the radio.
* * * * *
"Captain Kiernan, something's wrong with my radio." Cadet Trello’s voice crackled in Kiernan’s ears. Kiernan punched a few buttons on his control panel and frowned at the results. "I’m showing the transmission is now running backwards. Is that what you get, Trello?" "Yes, but who would make the message run backwards? Not Klodfons, that's for sure." "Good point. Maybe someone is trying to tell us they aren’t Klodfons…." Pressing a button to transmit to the Charys, Captain Kiernan spoke. "Gold Leader to Base. Can you scan that ship for life forms?" The response was immediate. "We’ve been trying, but the ship is shielded." There was a pause. "Commander says try to get them to follow you in if you can't make radio contact." Kiernan acknowledged the order, turning his transmission to his wing mate before he spoke. "Hear that, Trello?" "Yes, Sir. I’ve tried but can't raise them on any frequency we've got; I can’t be sure they're even receiving us. What do we do now?" "I've got them in sight. Let's move into standard patrol formation, with them in the middle. If there's a Cavalier at the controls, he'll follow us." There was significant a pause before Trello responded. "And if it's Klodfons?" "The front ship will get blasted and you'll retaliate. Ready?" Kiernan’s voice was crisp and professional. Trello's voice held some uncertainty. "I guess so. I mean, yes, Sir." Kiernan was glad Trello couldn’t see his grim half-smile at the cadet’s hesitancy as they began to maneuver their ships. Kiernan thought momentarily of his own first encounter with a Klodfon ship, remembered his own misgivings. And he’d known that one had Klodfons in it. 'Well,' he thought, 'there's no time like the present for Trello’s new battle experience. At least there’s only one ship for his first fight.' Watching their controls, they moved closer to the Klodfon raider.
* * * * *
"There they are now," Skylar said quietly to Jenna. "Have you been able to receive anything from them?" "No." Her voice was steady, although the atmosphere in the little ship could have been cut and stacked in slabs by now. "Do you think they'll shoot us down?" Glen asked. "It's a possibility," Skylar said. "I hope they won't open fire as long as we don't shoot first. It depends on who they sent out after us. Some of us are jumpy and a lot more eager to fight than others." They sat tensely as the Wyverns flew past them. One ship came up on their right, far enough behind that Jenna said, "That's either a real loose formation, or he's going to shoot us." Skylar glanced up from the controls. "I think they'd have shot by now if they were going to. Just make sure you don't accidentally hit that firing stud." Jenna grinned and held her hands high, far from the purplish buttons. "Yes, Sir." Skylar returned the smile then involuntarily ducked as the second Wyvern passed close over his head and took up a lead position ahead and to his left. "Patrol formation!" Jenna crowed with delight. Lissanne, though silent, relaxed visibly. “I’d hate to be accidentally annihilated by the good guys,” said Glen. “Does this ‘patrol formation’ mean they won’t shoot?” “Probably,” Jenna answered, her eyes glued to the screens before her. The lead ship then began a turn that would take them to the Charys. Skylar followed, working hard to match the moves of the smaller, more maneuverable ship. Soon the Charys came into view. Glen gasped at the sheer size of it, the sound carrying to the front of the small craft above the noise of the engine. Skylar grinned. Even though he’d grown up knowing about dragonstars, he’d had the same reaction the first time he’d seen the Aubria. Now he was relieved to be alive to see one again. The lead Wyvern landed and Skylar came in, giving the other pilot just enough time to get out of his way. The moment the Klodfon ship stopped, it was surrounded by a security team, their weapons trained on the door of the raider. Skylar grinned at the familiar security precautions. Seeing them in action was comforting, somehow. Turning away from the control panel and gesturing toward the door, he said, “It’s your dragonstar, Lissanne. Lead on!” Opening the door, Lissanne exited the ship, her hands held in plain sight. She stopped at the bottom to make sure all knew she wasn’t a danger to them. She was met with perplexed looks on the part of the security guards and a moment of silence. Finally recognizing her, the squad leader smiled. "Lt. Lissanne! Welcome home!" He stepped forward at bit and lowered his laser, the rest of the team following suit. "Thanks," she said, smiled in return. The others from the Klodfon ship joined her just as the lights in the landing bay dimmed and turned red, accompanied by a loud noise. "Battle stations!" she groaned. "Looks like the Klodfons made it back with their buddies." Taking the security squad leader by the arm, she gave simultaneous introduction and explanation. "Glen's a local; he's okay, no security threat. Lt. Jenna's hurt. She needs to go to the infirmary. I'll leave them and this ship," she motioned behind her, "in your capable hands and I'll see you later. Captain Skylar is from the Aubria. We’re going to join the fight.” Beckoning to Skylar, she yelled to be heard over the noise of the alarm. "Let's go find a couple of spare Wyverns. Are you game?" Skylar nodded, and quickly followed her to the launching area.