gaze wandered from the info transparency to the scratched,
battered space pilot's helmet below his decorations in the
office's showcase. The old, ugly thing had caused a lot of
questioning looks in the past – it wasn't his own.
read the short note again, couldn't really believe that it
happened finally, after all those years – he had placed
that order as soon as his rank was high enough to do it –
and he'd had to wait so long.
he had to be fast.
A short look
into the schedule and a personal dialed call to the GRS5's
office: "Taxi job, Gooseman. Meet me at Hangar 1. Make a
corsair ready to take-off for a flight within the Solar System."
Ranger ship raced out of orbit. "Destination, Sir?"
Gooseman asked from beside him.
The fast corsair would need just about half an hour for the
distance, but still the ST programmed a minimal hyperspace jump
and did it in a few seconds. "Planetary coordinates,
He didn't have to
look at the charts. "54° 19' 37" North, 103°
28' 04" West."
you sure, Sir?" Gooseman frowned. "That's in the
the middle of nowhere."
coordinates are correct, Goose. Bring us down there."
ST shrugged and called Martian Space Control for landing
clearance outside inhabited areas.
corsair landed in a big whirl of red dust that dimmed the
blinding sunlight for a moment and then sank slowly back to the
surface, covering the brilliant white vessel with a thin rust
colored layer. Walsh took two breathing filters from his pocket
and handed one to Gooseman. "Use it. You'll accompany
The ST frowned. "But
Mars is already completely terraformed, Sir. We shouldn't need
any breathing aids here."
against the dust, Goose." Walsh adjusted his properly and
continued, slightly muffled by the mask, while he opened the
cockpit. "Smells like blood and dries your tongue. I don't
want you to transform here." He climbed out and headed
straight for the rock formation some twenty meters away.
roofs had come down during their long burial under the dust and
most of the outer walls were halfway collapsed. Already now dust
piled up in the corners and along the wall fragments. The old
base wouldn't last long in the Martian sun, would be buried again
Though the dryness of the
Martian plains preserved everything, the dust that swept a
hundred kilometers per hour across the land scoured everything
away. Only the metal frames of the furniture were still in the
room, now to more than two-thirds open to the wind.
looked around, shoved his foot through the dust along the inner
wall. He didn't need to pull up the dropped door to look at the
sign. It was the right room. He scrutinized the walls for a
silhouette. The remnant of a figure struck by the HEL
that burned through rocks and roof. He couldn't find
"You've been here
before, haven't you?" Goose's voice behind him was muffled
by the dust mask. When he didn't answer, Gooseman continued "You
knew the coordinates by heart. And this place is very old,"
he paused for a moment, "and was in a war." The ST
pointed at the glazing of an energy cannon in the near
Walsh sighed. "The
Siege of Mars, boy. I was stationed here and...
receiver crackled, spat scraps of words into the narrow chamber.
Spike dropped his legs from the radio console and sat straight
=...Wolven of EFC
Sarato– ... landing coord– ... hear me? I'm alr–
Spike, fumbling with
enhancers and clarifiers, shouted: "Men. I've got a signal!!
Cap–" He interrupted himself, remembered that they had
buried their last commanding officer a week ago, now all here
were about his age. "Boys!" The signal became clearer,
and his eighteen comrades squeezed themselves into the tiny room.
There had been many more of them when they had arrived here, but
the battles had taken their toll. Spike increased the
=–ome down. –
Code Delta Bravo One Alpha. This is Lt. Aki van Wolven of EFC
Saratoga calling any Earth Force Base within reach. Need landing
coordinates. Can anybody hear me? I'm already running on reserve
and need to come down. – Code Delta Bra–=
reduced the sound level and turned for his comrades. "What
shall we do?" he asked.
can be a trap of the colons,"
Shark muttered. "They'd do anything to find the last bases
old but still valid," Jostler remarked, flapping through the
of the radio silence," Fury grimaced, "we can't call
the Saratoga for confirmation."
switched the sound back on.
coordinates. Can anybody hear me? I'm already running on reserve
and need to come down. Please.= The voice sounded
desperate now and fairly young, as young as they all were. =Code
Delta Bravo One Alpha. This is Lt. Aki van–=
pilots gathered in the small room talked all at the same time.
"SHUT UP! EVERYONE!!" Hotshot's shout was accompanied
by the well-known gesture of cutting the throat. "Colons or
not, radio silence or not. The only question here is: do we risk
sending coordinates to get that pilot down or not? The code's
valid. So I say: yes, we do!"
who made you the commander, eh?!" Buccaneer kicked against
"Three days longer on
duty than anyone else here is!" Hotshot snapped, clenching
his fist. "You want to discuss it?" When Buccaneer
remained silent, Hotshot turned for the others: "Anybody
else arguing?" Nobody moved. "Okay. Spike, send our
you know what yer doing, Hottie," Spike muttered, entering
the code. "You only arrived first because you and your
people live on that base."
beside him grinned. "Yeah. The most boring neighborhood in
summer holidays, pal, but it has proved to be useful today."
fighter made a steep landing, and came to a halt in a great whirl
of dust just in front of the hangar. They rushed out to guide it
down and out of sight, but it didn't start to roll. Alarmed, they
retreated till they saw the hasty hand signs of the pilot –
"Must be dry to
the bottom, if he can't even taxi that short distance,"
Iceman murmured behind his dust mask.
indicated a whistle. "Wow. What a landing in circumstances
like that. Let's go. We have to pull him inside before he
indicates our position."
the colons don't know it already from that call," Buccaneer
"Oh, shut up,
Buck. We'd be dead already if they did!"
they pressed against the landing gear. Hotshot supervised the
maneuvering. At least, the foreigner seemed to be a good pilot:
the descent into the rock carved hangar worked out smoothly.
foreign pilot opened his cockpit and climbed out, both hands in
plain sight, with his identification papers in the right, before
the dust in the hangar had settled again. The helmet distorted
his voice. "Who's the commanding officer
his eyes. "Identify yourself first. Then we'll
small pilot shrugged. "I thought you answered my call, so
you'd know. Sorry. I'm Lt. Aki van Wolven." He stretched out
a hand in the thick gloves that belong to the standard pressure
"Not your name, your
nick," Buccaneer grumbled. "Out here, we seldom know
the foreign pilot seemed to smile and unfastened his helmet, "I'm
Buccaneer and the others hesitated a moment before they broke out
in a heavy laughter.
white bird for Christmas?" Hotshot grinned broadly. "And
your ship's the EFC Duck Pond, right?"
ship," van Wolven put off the helmet with a jerk and
continued in a no longer distorted, cold female voice,
"was the EFC Saratoga. And it no longer exists!" She
glared with brown eyes at the bunch of spacefighter pilots in
front of her. "Who's your commanding officer and where can I
find him? Now!"
recovered first. "He was killed a week ago. I'm the oldest
She pulled a sleeve across her dusted helmet and turned her eyes
to the ceiling. "This is really my day." Some of the
young men in front of her started to snicker again, seeing the
painting on the front of her helmet. Aki ignored it.
are spacebased. Do you want fuel to get to another carrier?"
Lt. van Wolven
sighed. "There are no carriers left above Mars."
the lasting silence they even could hear the dust storm outside
though the hangar was fifteen meters below the surface.
than two hours later...
hidden bases on Mars had gotten the order to defend civilian
settlements within their reach at all costs to keep the enemy
from getting a planetary base with food growing capacity."
Walsh sighed again and looked at Gooseman. "For this place
that meant Olympus
Mons, the Tharsis Region and Valles
Marineris." It was impossible to secure the
area sufficiently without communication.
old settlements are in sheltered areas." The ST snorted. The
fine dust had begun to creep into his dust mask. "Because of
the dust shields."
they terraformed the planet, produced oxygen and water, but they
never got rid of the dust. The low energy shields are an
acceptable solution. Except in war." He stared at the area
where the dust was glazed by heavy laser fire. In his memory,
Mars was always dust. The dust...
piled up to the knees again." Spike slouched into the
'casino'. They'd started long ago to call it 'the idiot's box'
"Okay, pals. Let's
keep Mars from inspecting our hangar and toilets." Shark got
up, stretched, and threw his cards aside. "All of you."
With a broad smile: "Except the ladies around, of
Goose dropped her
cards and left her place, too. "No exceptions for me, boys.
My ship's also in that hangar and you don't want to be sued for
sexism, do you? So where are the shovels?"
that's nothing to do with sexism," Shark looked punished,
"it's because our Christmas roast would become too skimpy if
we let you shovel dust." Buccaneer and Spike grinned at his
"Be careful, Sharky,"
Goose grinned maliciously, "my family lives near Amsterdam.
We've got traditional recipes for all sorts of fish."
Buck and Spike burst out laughing loudly, joined by the rest of
"But why a
goose, anyway?" Hotshot asked across the noise. He took a
bit of his field ration and made a face at the horrible taste of
the synthesized nutrigen. They were limited to it, now that there
were no carriers available. No carriers. No supplies. No relief.
No mail. Nothing. "I mean, not like it's a mighty animal
bring luck. Out here, I thought I'd need that – and I was
right with it."
his brows, mocking. "A modern girl like you and
don't think so. After all, I'm still alive because of my
The room had become
quieter now. Everybody was listening, expecting a story to be
told. And Aki didn't disappoint them, when she
"During the last
days before its fatal battle the Saratoga accommodated a lot of
foreign pilots who lost their carriers. One day before the
destruction one of them made a smart comment about my nick just
like our going-to-be-a-shark fin soup here," she nodded
toward Shark and some snickering across the room interrupted her
for a moment before she could continue with a slightly cruel
smile, "and caught me in a real bad mood. To make a long
story short: I punched him in the nose and knocked him out.
Needless to say, my flight commander wasn't pleased by the
incident and he ordered me on a single long range patrol, almost
as far as my fuel supply could last."
that is what you call luck?" Fury grinned broadly.
"Hell, please, don't save that luck for me, then!" Some
of his comrades snickered.
call it luck. Because when I reentered Martian space, the
Saratoga was already under heavy fire. Before I could join the
combat it exploded right before my eyes and took most of its
fighters with it." She ground her teeth at the memory. "I'd
likely be dead if I'd been onboard when the attack began."
Her eyes glistened cold. "I knew there weren't other
carriers left. Saratoga was the last. So I turned for the planet
itself, descended in Phobos'
shadow and called for landing coordinates. You know the rest."
She snorted, spat out the dust that entered her mouth while
talking – the air filters weren't strong enough to keep it
outside the base without an additional dustshield which would
reveal their position to the enemy – and her last words
fell hard into the deadly lasting silence: "You see, without
my goose I wouldn't be here."
a moment, Hotshot took a shovel and went out into the scraping
wind, soon followed by his comrades, to prevent once again their
hangar entrance from being buried by the all-pervasive dust...
had been molten by high energy weapon's fire and finally had
solidified to a glazed area where the hangar entrance once had
"What was that war
The question got
Walsh off his line of thought. "The Colonial Wars,
Gooseman," he grumbled. "Remember your lessons at Wolf
"We were taught
how it was done, Sir," the ST reminded him calmly, "but
why was it fought?"
closed his eyes at the simple question, felt the grinding dust
between his lids. Present-day dust filters weren't any better
than the ones back then. You were faster than I, boy, he
thought sadly, you questioned your combat at seventeen. I was
nineteen back then, as the others. We were young, reckless, and
trained on the most snazzy fighters of our time. We didn't give a
damn about the reasons as long as we could fly. Fly...
lower, Hotshot, and we'll rename you Hotass!= Rocket's
voice came, snickering, via com. =You're almost at below zero
Their bunch of
fighters raced through the narrowing canyon structures of eastern
Marineris. They entered the Valles terrain in low flight dropping
and Candor Chasma
into the deep and ragged rift canyon of about three thousand
miles length crossing Mars' surface between 30° and 110°
latitude almost rectangular to the northern direction. Staying
near zero-altitude, they were chasing colonial fighters
approaching New Pigalle which lay at the narrowest point of
at 53° West, 15° South.
the last weeks the enemy directed its attacks more and more
against the civilian population, concentrated the surface attacks
on the larger, non-agrarian cities, destroyed dust shields,
water-extraction facilities, important buildings. The radio
silence was still on, only inter-ship-com was accepted, used
fairly outside base area, and their last received order was
unmistakably clear: defend civilian settlements.
getting a hot ass by scraping surface than a hot head by
receiving HELs down from orbit,= Hotshot shot back. =Don't you
remember? We've got no protection up there any more!=
boys. Shut up!= Goose's voice cut in. =I've got the jerks on the
scan.= She cursed violently. =Seems we won't catch them out of
=Wanna go shopping,
sweety?= Ace commented.
one of you!? You can't believe I want to be seen with someone
like you guys.= She rolled her fighter across a small ridge to
dive into an even deeper canyon.
fight of the sixties! Wowowowoooooooooooo!= Wolverine let out one
of his deep howls and followed.
colon, leaving Main Street, dived into El Greco Ave. and
accelerated towards the main water reservoir below the city. The
great, artificial lake supplied the drinking water for all
citizens of New Pigalle and for the farmers that grew special
crops on the outskirts of it.
had to be stopped!
altitude.= Goose, his wing-woman, came over the intercom. =I'll
try to distract him into one of the turning lanes. Should get you
the time to close in.=
around, noticed the glistening of sunlight shining through
the high curved windows of the big building ahead, and narrowed
his eyes. =Go above, Goose. I'll take a short-cut!=
pulled the throttle. His ship leaped forward toward the large
house in Southern State style on Earth ahead. At the last moment
before the impact he tilted. The high front doors shattered. The
edge of his right wing slightly scraped across an expensive
carpet. The back of the long hall reaching up three storeys was
covered by a broad, elegant curved window wall – the pride
of New Pigalle's glazier's guild – the green of a colonial
vessel appeared at the outermost left. He pressed the trigger.
The large glass plates exploded along with the colon behind them
– diving through the ball of flames he tore into El Greco
and rushed up to roof level with a rolled loop to meet his
burned behind him. A large holographic picture that showed Mayor
Lee Chan, elected last week, at his assumption of office, melted.
The frame was carved of Martian rock and could stand the heat of
the spacefighter's exhaust gas and only the lower edge of it got
covered with the molten plastic. New Pigalle's city hall would
never be the same again.
side wing of the building, Mayor Chan carefully raised his head
up from under his desk – there was never enough time
between the alarm and the actual beginning of combat to enter a
shelter – and stared through the smoke streaked glass wall
between his office and the inner hall. "What color are our
vessels again?" he asked, whispering to his still-shaking
secretary: "Grey or green?"
boss," she couldn't keep her shivering out of her voice.
"Earth Force ships are light grey."
colonial vessels are green to remind their pilots what they fight
you're insane!= came Goose's comment in a quiet moment while
their ships rushed above the roofs. =Didn't your mother tell you
to fly around the buildings?=
remember that. There was only a remark about warm underwear and
clean socks. Is it related to tha–?=
yell interrupted him. =Two colons! At nin–= A laser beam
flashed across Goose's cockpit, made her fighter spin downward.
The vessel almost hit ground before she could stabilize
One of the antagonists
exploded ahead of her as Hotshot's ship tore through the cloud of
fire. =Goose? Are you okay?=
She checked her displays, saw the red flashing LED. =Cracked
cockpit seal.= She accelerated towards her wingman. =As long as
we don't leave atmosphere, I'm fine.=
There's still three of them missing. We've got to search
=Fine. I always
wanted to visit the artists quarter!= They dived down into
another one of the steep streets of New Pigalle, crossing under
one of the fragile pedestrian bridges. With the typical arrogance
of a spacebased pilot Goose added: =Even at ground level it's
great to fly...
Three of them
hadn't returned from that mission.
and Rocket were shot down. He himself had seen Wolverine's vessel
explode into a ball of flames and smoke, scattering its wreckage
across two flats of residential buildings.
had gotten a puncture in his fuel tank. They'd received his com
messages, had become witnesses of his struggle against reduced
fuel supply and a cracked compass. He had lost his way without
reliable position data in the arid, flat land. They couldn't lead
him because of the radio silence and the lurking enemy above
their heads. He had gone down somewhere in the desert. He hadn't
had a chance of surviving the night: Martian nights in the
Vastitas region still went down to temperatures around -90°
Celsius, despite terraforming.
were only eleven of us after that – with Goose. And the
adrenaline of the constant battle kept us from thinking about it.
He recalled the names of the losses after their last official
commander's death and Goose's arrival: Buccaneer, X, El
Magnifico, the silent Brazilian had never talked much,
Starrunner, Jostler, Ramrod... "We were pilots,
Gooseman," he answered finally. "We didn't care. We
weren't directly confronted with the dying and we didn't really
let on that it happened." Even on carriers pilots weren't
allowed to visit the hospital stations. "We were kept
away from the reality of war."
ST's mouth twitched in irony. "Clean war,
"Dirty as all
wars are. But we were taught not to notice..." his voice
died off again. ...until we discovered by a fly-over that
had been struck by HEL shots. The pilots stationed there hadn't
had a chance. Walsh still remembered the shock he had gotten
when seeing the silhouettes of people dying in agony, burned into
the glazed rocks where they had stood as the base was destroyed.
We weren't prepared for it, boy. I wish you weren't, either.
two possibilities: to go on with our mission till the assholes up
there follow our engine heat signatures to the hangar and glaze
us as they did with Alba-3, or," Hotshot took a deep breath,
"we go after their carrier."
others just stared at him. "You're crazy. If we leave
surface cover, they will melt us with their HEL before we even
reach the stratosphere, let alone cross the thermosphere and
Aki at the
other end of the table knitted her brows and drove the fingers
through her short brown hair. "Not if we take-off right
after they fired," she thought aloud, "HELs have a
recharging time of approximately six minutes. At full speed it's
possible to reach an altitude high enough to maneuver freely
before they can fire again."
those things aren't built to use against small, fast-moving
targets." Hotshot added. "It's a chance."
that we only know they fired when they've already glazed us!"
Spike slammed his mug on the table and rubbed off the dust, that
was already sticking on the edge. He grumbled. "I'm sick of
this planet in my coffee."
can heat up the rocks some twenty meters off the hangar,"
Cyclops suggested, "the hangar's deep and isolated against
We'll lose the comps but we can start if we blow off the
looked up. "There ought to be some chemex
in the storage. But how should we heat the rock, eh?"
could dismantle an engine from one of our ships," Iceman
looked concentrated ahead, "if we give it a full fuel tank
and cover it with rocks leaving only the tubes open, it should
work. But we lose a fighter for it."
of us will have to stay down here and will likely be hit by the
next HEL shot before we can attack the carrier." Hotshot's
mouth twitched. "I don't want to decide who."
need to." Goose said into the silence after his words. "My
cockpit seal's cracked. My ship isn't fit for space."
that's no reason you should be the one to stay–" Spike
began, but Goose cut him off.
voice was cold. She looked very composed. "It's my ship. My
engine. I'll stay." And with a furious sparkle in her brown
eyes the Goose added: "And you guys go up there and trash
the piece of space junk that blew up my friends and comrades on
Spike swept the rust colored sweat off his forehead and
straightened. "That's it. The ships are prepared, the
explosives are placed and all we've still to do is cover this
babe with dirt."
we need access to the starter afterwards," Hotshot grinned
behind his dust mask. "I'd hate it to have to dig it up
again after we buried it because you forgot that we've still got
to switch it on."
snorted and took the first shovel of dust as Aki yelled from the
hangar entrance: "Stop it!! Something's missing! Please...
Wait!!!" She ran towards them, carrying a small can. Heavily
breathing she stopped beside them. She opened the can and drew
with some rough lines a big white goose on the engine's hull,
patted the metal and turned to Hotshot and the others. "Okay,
now it's finished." Seeing their amazed looks, she smiled,
slightly bitter: "Did you forget? Geese bring luck."
been decorated for bravery and courage. But the only brave person
I met in that war was never only mentioned...
Goose looked at the wall chrono when Hotshot entered the mess.
"Dusk. Samantha's running now."
Hotshot frowned and put his helmet next to hers on the
"A famous goose in
an old western movie about a Quaker family in the civil war.
Really bite-y beast," she explained roughly.
you okay?" he asked.
looked up, nobody else was there. She looked small, even in the
low room. "How can I be?" she shot back with more fury
than he had expected in her.
she shook her head, "it's the only chance we have. My
position isn't any worse than yours." That was a lie, they
both knew it, but it was necessary. Silence stretched out between
them. Then: "Why Hotshot?"
comrades mentioned you didn't get your nick because of your
flying abilities, but they didn't want tell me what you got it
for." She spat out some dust slime. "I'd just like to
trainer was the reason. Because my father's in the military, too,
me and my family live on the base near Phoenix where our unit was
trained. Flight trainer Osborne's house was only fifty meters
away from ours." He shrugged. "Guess I broke to many of
his windows as a boy. Anyway, he couldn't stand me and since he
began each of our flight lessons with the same words: 'To make it
absolutely clear: I don't like hotshots. If you want to impress
me show me control and discipline!' it was obvious for my
comrades that I–"
to be Hotshot." Goose finished, faintly snickering.
Then she grew deadly earnest again. "How long do you think
it'll take till they shoot?"
don–" A heavy thunder rolled through the base. "NOW!"
he shouted against the ringing in his ears, grabbed his helmet
and ran on down to the hangar.
her voice was faint in the loud rumble of running feet in heavy
boots as the last Vastitas-39 spacefighter pilots raced to their
ships. Six minutes to reach orbit. Six minutes. From now on.
blast ripped off the hangar door and the ten fighters raced out
in groups of two or three and leaped towards orbit. The record
for a Martian orbit jump was 4 minutes 48 seconds, done by a
pilot with special training and a perfectly checked spacecraft.
Nothing of that applied here. But it was all the time they
G pressed Hotshot into his seat as he leaped
straight away from Martian surface.
inner features of the helmet cut in his cheeks and forehead.
Damn. What's up with the thing?!
stars and red spots began to flicker before his eyes: the
inertial damping field must have reached its limit. He glanced at
the LED-display with the countdown in his lower
39 seconds left. The
density indicator showed still red: still stratosphere.
Maneuvering here at escape velocity would tear the ships to
20 seconds. Red.
=Swarm out!= He bellowed
into the com and pulled his fighter over its right wing, leaving
the most likely line of fire, still accelerating at max. A
blinding yellow beam shot down at Mars, lasted for almost half a
minute before it faded. Good luck, Goose, he thought
grimly, already taking a bearing on the starting point of the HEL
shot. =Okay, boys. Coordinates set. Let's get rid of the
They tore up through
colonial carrier was the same model as the carriers Earth Force
used, except that it was painted dark olive green. The fighter
coverage was weak, most of the energy was obviously needed for
the enhanced HEL that was – against all treaties and
conventions in space warfare – used against surface
targets, so that specific vessel couldn't carry a whole
spacefighter squadron. But the smaller, swiveling laser board
cannons were dangerous enough...
LC battery swivelled round as he fired. To his right Spike's ship
exploded with silent grace. Something crashed against his tail.
Hotshot was slammed forward into the belts. His forehead
connected with the main control panel. The skin of his forehead
chafed at the ill-fitting inner features of his helmet. Blood
poured down his face, into his eyes, across his viewfield,
dripping off his chin. The impact caused his ship to spin
violently. He couldn't stabilize it without seeing where he was
going. Furiously he pushed the blood covered LED-viewscreen back
and wiped the blood out of his eyes. He struggled to stop the
bright yellow beam burned through the remnants of his squadron,
melted five of them to metal slick. Fortuna's smiling at me.
Without the spinning I'd likely been in the line of fire myself.
He ground his teeth and spat out the blood he smelled there.
Those asses fire that goddamn thing at anything that's not
A blinking LED on his
panel turned from yellow – reduced capacity – to
orange – very reduced capacity, likely failure within two
minutes. He swore. Only three were left, and that monster wasn't
even slightly scratched. It would fire again...
recharging time of six minutes. The thing's just fired and it's
directly connected with the reactor. He rolled his ship
around, directly in front of the HEL. Let's see how good your
backflow blocking devices are! He pulled the trigger.
ship, accelerated by the blast wave, fell toward Mars, spinning,
tumbling. The cockpit was a mess of dead, red, and – the
most positive signals – yellow blinking LEDs. He still felt
blood pouring down his face, slowly dizziness crept into his
limbs. The planet filled three quarters of his screen already.
Hotshot cursed and worked hard on the merely sluggish functioning
controls. He prayed to come down inside the settled area, near
one of the large landing fields. Neither he nor his ship were in
any condition for a fancy landing right now.
massive shape of Olympus Mons rose ahead. His ship nearly cut off
some of the radio antennae on the caldera's edge that belonged to
the abandoned military base in the crater itself. The big scar on
Mars' face appeared in his viewfield – Valles Marineris. If
he could slow down the sinking and followed the beacon system,
maybe he could reach the great civil spaceport on the plains
above New Pigalle. If...
surface raced below him, too close... No, he was too fast for his
remaining height... His vision blurred. The great white markings
indicating the spaceport's border appeared ahead... Military
fighters weren't allowed to land there, to compromise civilian
territory... The landing gear hit ground...
clambered, nearly blinded by the blood in and on his helmet, out
of the wrecked, already burning vessel and staggered away from
it. Some civilian airfield workers came toward him. "Thing's
gonna explode!" he yelled at them, stumbling. Mars began to
rotate around him. The ball of yellow glowing clouds of the
exploded enemy carrier between the two moons flowed apart. The
main engine of his vessel burst in red and orange, scattering the
wreckage across the runway. Something hit his shoulder. Mars
leaped at him. Everything faded...
regained consciousness in the brilliant white of a civilian
hospital. Later he learned that it was the First Colonists
Memorial Hospital at Marinera Spaceport. It took him a while till
he was able to recognize the man standing at his bed from the
holographs he'd seen during his training: General Dean
Lieutenant?" the chief commander of the Space Rangers asked
kindly. He must have tried to salute since the general hurried to
say, "No need to strain your injuries, boy. I don't take
salutes from people who win my war for me."
the war?" his voice was dry and raspy. "It's
belongs to the negotiators." One side of General Anderson's
mouth twitched. "Your unit destroyed the enemy's flagship.
They weren't able to regroup their forces before we shattered
them. Your base is?"
"And who was the
commander of your unit?"
Lowell. But he was killed shortly after the radio silence was
clarify my question: who commanded your unit when it performed
the final attack? Who took the command after Lowell was
"I did, Sir. I
was longer on duty than anyone else."
general stared at him. "How much more, Lieutenant? You
aren't any older than your comrades."
were able to hold it?" Anderson laughed heartily. "Three
days. Boy, that's great." He shook his head. "Now
recover from your injuries, and prepare yourself for a lot of
ceremonies. You maybe haven't noticed so far, but you're going to
get more decorations than I have," he smiled, satisfied,
"and a promotion. We were able to rescue six of the flight
recorders of your unit – including yours. Everything's
already examined. You're going to jump quite a few ranks after
the Board's debates are finished, Lieutenant."
what about my comrades?" he asked, already getting dizzy
"I'm sorry, none of
them made it."
was our base inspected, Sir? It's possible that–"
general shook his head. "No, Lieutenant. The autumn
duststorms were rather strong this year. Vastitas-39 is buried
under at least fifteen meters of Martian sand."
the plaques and memorials and lists had been embossed, written
and published long before I was able to leave the hospital,
nobody knew that you'd been there with us. Nobody wanted to hear
the truth afterwards. Walsh still searched the ground, lost
in his thoughts. They decorated me. They promoted me, assigned
me to one of their newest and considered most important new
projects. They posthumously conferred medals for bravery to all
of the others. But they didn't even want to mention that you'd
been there, too.
personnel of the hospital treated him like any other patient
there – and there were quite a lot – the second HEL
shot had hit urban territory and a lot of civilians were wounded.
Two days later he found his personal belongings in a paper box
below his bed. The battered helmet lay on top, still covered with
his dried blood. It looked like the dust that had stuck to every
humid point at the base: cups, dishes, sweaty shirts, the
I'm sorry, you
were wrong, Aki, he thought sadly, a goose doesn't bring
He rubbed with the
sleeve of his hospital coat across the crusted helmet,
involuntarily looking after his equipment, and then stared in
shock at the picture, painted in white lacquer on the front of
the helmet. He must have grabbed the wrong helmet in the chaos
after the first shot.
glinting of a tiny metal object next to the bedstead caught
Walsh's attention. He picked it up, wiped the dust off it and
stared at the stamped letters. "Gooseman, wait for me at the
He watched the ST
stomping back through the dust and clenched his fist around the
old dog tag before he turned for the wall again, pulling out the
tiny tool he had brought along in his jacket pocket. "You
were right, Aki," Walsh said faintly, thinking of the
battered helmet with the rough painted white goose on it and
looked over at his son, waiting for him near the corsair, "more
than you ever knew." The tiny laser flamed up, burned words
into the wall above the shattered metal frame. "And I never
believed I was going to need it that badly."
words wouldn't be readable for long: if the place wouldn't be
buried again, the dust storms would erase the words soon. While
the Ranger corsair lifted up, the first wave of dust scraped
across the glazed letters:
Aki "the Goose" van Wolven
FOLLOWING FILES COULD BE FOUND IN THE DATABASES OF EARTH FORCE:
of Vastitas-39 (in alphabetical order)
Matthew "Rocket" Charles, dead
Nicholas "Starrunner" Chesterfield, dead
Gabriel "Ramrod" Ericsson, dead
Xander "Mirage" Harriman, dead
Jan "Ace" Heller, dead
Neal "Yeah" Jameson, dead
Frank "Buccaneer" Kastner, dead
Steven "Hellfire" Keller, dead
Remy "Jostler" LeBeau, dead
Anatol "Daemon" Levin, dead
Kirk "Wolverine" McQueen, dead
Winston "Cyclops" McTavish, dead
Myles "Shark" O'Connor, dead
Gregorij "X" Ogareff, dead
Rodrigo "El Magnifico" Parlac, dead
Michael "Fury" Shellerton, dead
Adrian "Spike" Ryan, dead
Joseph "Hotshot" Walsh, decorated
Thomas "Iceman" Zoran, dead
Casualties – EFC Saratoga – 2060-10-02
Aki "the Goose" van Wolven, Fighter pilot category