Chapter Three

It only took Woolfe and Chambers a second to get used to the outdated cockpit appliances after they had strapped themselves into the seats of the STCV. Fuller and Thurston sat right behind them, switching on navigation and engineering.

The cockpit looked almost like one of those big air planes Megan had seen on a school trip at the Science Museum in London a few years back. She and Woolfe went through the pre-flight check-list, switching on the data bars as they ticked off each item.

"I once saw this old movie, you know with real actors, and this movie was about some star wars or something," Thurston said and bent her head forward between the two front seats. "Those actors did pretty much the same you two are doing right now ..."

"No wonder," Megan said and ticked off another point on her list. "The STCVs are very much like the first endo-exo shuttles from the late nineties and early tens," she broke off and shot Anne a wary glance.

She knew that Thurston liked old-fashioned movies and she took every opportunity to retell the stories of the films in every detail.

"And hey, Thurston, I saw that film as well and if you start telling this stupid story I'm going to flag you, alright?"

Anne smirked at that and nodded her head.

"Whatever you say, you're the boss!" she said, still grinning to herself.

"Why was it a stupid story?" Woolfe inquired, sounding interested and Anne stifled a chuckle when Megan groaned quietly.

"It was one of those stupid science-fiction films humans liked back in the eighties and nineties! Like the one you saw last month. People fighting some weird looking guys in black helmets and arguing about whether it is humane to kill or not, that kind of stuff ..."

"In a combat sit?" Woolfe asked in surprise and Andrew laughed at that.

"Aye, you stupid egghead. In the 20th century people got a thrill out of it, thinking that they were the only race in space who would be on friendly terms with other Aliens ..."

"And look where that did lead us ..." Megan replied and switched on the com.

"SPACECOM, this is number seven-two squadron, Dark Knight Leader speaking, request for take off," she announced and the com-channel gave off a loud disturbing noise. The pilots flinched at that and Megan yanked off the headset angrily.

"Lord, by now they should have repaired the com-glitch!" she growled before she put the headset back on, carefully adjusting the volume.

"Dark Knight Leader, this is SPACECOM," came the voice of the NAV officer of the Wellington. "Your request for take off is granted, initiating the hydraulic lift. Good Luck!"

"Roger and out!" Chambers replied and together with Woolfe she started the engines of the STCV, completing the procedure as the hydraulic platform finished lifting it up onto the flight deck.

Slowly, the STCV took off from the flight deck and the pilots steered it away from the dreadnought. As they advanced towards the waiting fleet of STCVs, they listened to the skipchatter of the other pilots, all complaining about the outdated panels in the cockpits.

When they were given the thumbs up for their departure, three squadrons of BC-48 endo-exo attack jets, Spitfires, rocketed across the supply fleet, giving them back up. The pilots of the number 7-2 in fact looked forward to the point to point navigation, having no problems.

Meg sat back in the uncomfortable seat and watched the stars. The fleet was an impressive sight and Megan enjoyed the beauty of it. She had been fascinated with space Since she was a child and she had always envied her father and Colonel McQueen who had been jet-jockeys all their lives. But right now, she felt happy with the dark velvet of space all around her. She belonged here, just like the stars. Even the war could not impair the beauty of it and she was reminded of some words she had read a long time ago. It had been during one of McQueen's rare visits and she had been interested in the ancient Red Indian cultures. For long hours they had discussed philosophical and theological issues but every time they had returned to the universe and what it meant for the both of them. She had always enjoyed those talks with the Angry Angel.

Megan closed her eyes and smiled. James Woolfe turned his head slightly and shot her a questioning glance.

"Day-dreaming again?" he asked and Megan opened her eyes and met his level gaze. It always amazed her again and again that despite his own lack of social and emotional comprehension, he had an intuitive understanding towards others.

She flashed him a smile and nodded.

"Could be..." she answered and checked the displays. Only forty mikes before they would reach the battle fleet. When she looked at the HUD and LIDAR she didn't notice anything amiss at first but suddenly two unidentified blips appeared and she drew in her breath.

"Convoy Leader, this is Dark Knight One, have two bogeys on seven and eight," she announced over the com and looked at Woolfe.

The young In-Vitro answered her stern look and switched on the weapon's systems.

"Ready to tango?" he asked and Megan shivered at his cold voice for a moment.

"Yes, ready and prepared!" she answered.

The convoy scattered while the Spitties turned on the advancing enemy.

Woolfe counted more than fifteen bogeys on his LIDAR and he shook his head when he saw that the Spittie pilots were soon outnumbered.

"Lord," he heard Andrew whispering softly and Woolfe turned his head slightly.

"What's up?" he asked.

Andrew turned towards him and flicked off the com.

"The Chigs have changed attack plans..." the young man said and suddenly almost all eyes were on him.

"Meaning?" Megan inquired matter of factly but she dreaded his answer. As far as she could tell there were more enemy ships advancing.

"We are right in the middle of their attack line..." Andrew answered sombrely.

For a short moment all four pilots looked at each other until Megan's mind was called back to the LIDAR again.

Three hive ships were rapidly coming their way.

"Alright, Carter," she said over the com to her sniper. "Take out as much as possible. It's either them or us..."

"Roger, boss," Pat Carter replied, a definite edge to her voice.

The first wave of attack came for most of the STCVs unprepared, a lot of the pilots were greenhorns, right out of flight-training and more than once Megan and James had to dodge other STCVs rather than enemy fire.

The handling of the ship was sluggish, and both pilots had a hard time manoeuvring. The Spitties were dashing to and fro between the STCVs and the attacking enemy ships, but their laser fire didn't do much damage.

Several STCVs had scattered to the far left of the Dark Knights' craft and their laser guns were shooting off fire in wild disarray. Suddenly the STCV shuddered and Carter and Thurston screamed.

Bright lights were flashing and smouldering wires filled the cockpit. Woolfe ducked when a wire and a circuit board came crashing down on him and Megan brushed away the spluttering debris with her hand.

"Report, what happened?" Megan shouted as she dodged an oncoming enemy attack fighter.

"Starboard Propulsion down, cannot re-initiate," Fuller announced as he routed through the diagrams. "We got three direct hits on starboard, the lasers are down and intercom to Carter is down as well."

"Shit," Megan muttered under her breath and grabbed the flight stick harder. "NAV is jammed, Fuller. The STCV reacts like a whale on a beach ..."

"We have to retreat or go down on one of the moons ..." Woolfe muttered and tried to get the jammed stick into a normal position again.

"Carter, do you hear me?" Megan inquired over the com but all she could hear was static.

She swore quietly and looked over to Woolfe.

"Go to Carter ... We have to re-establish the communications..." she looked down on his still jammed flight stick and then towards Woolfe again. "I don't know for how long I can keep this thing flying, so get her NOW."

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