By Richard Paolinelli
© 2019 RICHARD PAOLINELLI . ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO COPYING OR ANY OTHER REPRODUCTION OF THIS STORY IS PERMITTED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION.
Rogers slipped out of the conference room unnoticed. He’d seen enough of the data while on the shuttle to discern what his friend had in mind and he knew there was no other way. But the other men inside that room would cling to one wild hope of victory and would never believe that Sinclair’s plan was the only option they had left.
Sinclair would never order a man, much less a good friend, to do what Rogers had in mind, but Rogers knew it was the last push Sinclair would need to get his plan approved. So Rogers quietly made his decision and slipped away. He headed down to the cold sleep chambers buried deep below the surface, making his way to the tube where his wife Julia slept.
Placing his hand on the cold, stainless steel tube, Rogers took one last look at his wife, said a soft goodbye and made his way to the fighter bay.
Within twenty minutes of leaving the conference room, Ken Rogers was in the cockpit of a fighter, hurtling toward the Kustani armada now positioned five million miles from the moon.
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It had taken less time than he’d thought it would for the President and his advisors to begin to seriously consider what he was saying. The plan itself was audacious in its simplicity, but frightening in that their situation could have become so dire that it could be conceived and even be considered as the only viable option left.
Sinclair had bluntly walked them through it. Using Iacola’s super-clones all of Earth’s defensive resources would be thrown at the Kustani in one massive juggernaut.
Four squadrons of attack fighters would engage the Kustani ships in combat. Every combat-able soldier, led by Sinclair and the super-clones, would attempt to board as many of the Kustani’s main battle vessels as they could and lead an assault from within. The pilots of the transport shuttles, after dropping off the invaders, would then turn Kamikaze and fly their ships into whichever Kustani ships hadn’t yet been boarded in an attempt to damage or destroy as many ships as they could.
A fifth squadron would feint an attack on a Kustani ship before breaking away in an attempt to flee the solar system and head for the Kustani’s home system.
“Why there?” Blaine had asked at that point.
“Because they are going to be carrying half of our little surprise for the Kustani,” Sinclair replied. “Iacola’s staff has been working on a new weapon, but they were only able to produce eight of them. They are missiles, armed with what I can only describe as a devil’s brew of anti-matter and a few other bits of destructive nastiness that will trigger any type of star into an immediate supernova. I’ve already ordered four missiles to be loaded onto a platform and placed in orbit over the dark side of Mercury. Squadron Five will carry the other four.
“If our all-out assault on the Kustani fails and we can’t commandeer enough of their ships to use against them,” Sinclair continued, swallowing past a dry throat, “then the order to fire the missiles into our Sun will be given. The shock wave from our Sun going nova will wipe out the Kustani before they even know what we’ve done.”
No one in the room spoke, there wasn’t anything any of them could say as they all came to the same realization that Sinclair had been coming to for the last few weeks.
“Upon their arrival in the enemy’s home system, Five will fire their missiles into the Kustani’s home star from a safe distance,” Sinclair said. “If they see our Sun go, then they’ll continue on, looking for any world where they can set down and live out whatever lives they have left to them.”
“What kind of a life can a dozen or so men lead under those circumstances?” asked an advisor whose name Sinclair couldn’t recall.
“We’ve always had an anti-virus that would keep the women alive,” Sinclair said. “But they’d never be able to have children. So, we’ll have the squadron made up of twenty married men and send along a support shuttle with the capsules of the men’s wives and as much survival gear and supplies as we can pack into it. If they find a place, they set down, revive the women and enjoy whatever time they have together for however long it lasts.
“At the very least, we’ll have prevented the Kustani from ever doing this to another race of beings somewhere else. It’s not much of a legacy, but as far as I can see, it’s the only one we’ve got other than being just another victim of the Kustani.”
It was a bitter pill to swallow and it wasn’t going down easy.
“Surely there’s something else we can do beside mass suicide?” the aide seated to the right of the President asked.
Sinclair opened his mouth to try to convince them that this was the only way when the door burst open and an out-of-breath corporal flew into the room.
“General Sinclair,” the man gasped out. “You’re wanted in CIC. Colonel Rogers has stolen an attack fighter and is flying toward the Kustani. He isn’t answering hails.”
Stunned, Sinclair looked to empty spot where Rogers usually stood during these meetings. He’d never seen Ken walk out, but with a sudden dread, he knew exactly what his friend was doing and why as well. As he followed Blaine, Takahashi and the rest of the cabinet out the door, Sinclair cursed fate for bringing the Kustani down upon them and placing his friend in a position where he’d need to sacrifice himself in this way.
He saved the worst of his curse for himself, for becoming the man who was about to let his friend sacrifice himself without at least trying to talk him out of it.
* * * * *
By the time Sinclair entered CIC, Blaine was roaring into a mike at the fighter rapidly approaching the Kustani blockade. Judging from the shade of dark red Blaine’s face was turning, Ken wasn’t answering. Sinclair calmly walked up behind a communications officer and asked for a position update.
“He’s about three minutes from the nearest Kustani ship,” the man replied. “They’ve launched a small intercept group at him, contact in two minutes.”
Blaine tossed away the mike in frustration and vented some of his anger toward Rogers at Sinclair.
“Get him back here Sinclair!,” he shouted.
“Son, mind if I borrow your gear for a minute,” Sinclair asked the comm officer, who quickly handed Sinclair his headset.
“Ken,” Sinclair said into the mike after donning the gear. “What are you doing?”
“I figured out what you had in mind and it seemed that you could use a little help,” came the reply after a few seconds had passed. Blaine’s face turned another shade darker, but he held his tongue.
“That I could,” Sinclair said, ignoring Blaine. “But I had planned on having you lead an assault team.”
“Figured as much,” Rogers replied. “But I’m a pilot, not a ground pounder. Besides, I’m guessing there’s still some debate over your plan, folks down there not willing to see the forest for the trees and all that.”
“You could say that,” Sinclair whispered.
“So I’m thinking you need a little demonstration to get the green light to get the job done right?”
“Yeah, that’s about right.”
“He blew right through them,” came an outcry from a tracking monitor behind him. “He never engaged their intercept! General Blaine, he has a clear path at one of their ships!”
Sinclair forced himself to look on as the blip representing Rogers’ ship bore down on a Kustani battle cruiser. More intercepts were launched, but it was clear for all to see that they wouldn’t be in time to stop Rogers.
“Is he insane,” Blaine exclaimed. “He can’t do any damage attacking a cruiser with one fighter!”
“Fighter bay,” Sinclair said, switching to another channel on his headset. “What is the payload of Colonel Rogers’ fighter?”
“Standard weapons plus one thermonuclear missile,” came the quick reply.
“That won’t do him any good,” Blaine said. “We’ve fired nukes at them before with no effect.”
“He isn’t going to fire anything at them General,” Sinclair said softly, switching back to Rogers’ frequency.
“One minute to intercept,” intoned the com officer.
“Ken,” Sinclair said.
He couldn’t say good luck, it wouldn’t crawl past the lump in his throat. Rogers listened to the silence for a few seconds, smiled and sent one last message back to Earth.
“Understood, Duncan,” he said. “Give’em hell, pal.”
Less than a minute later, with every weapon on board the fighter armed, Rogers powered his ship straight into the engines of the Kustani cruiser that had led the assault on Mars. At first it appeared that the huge engines of the cruiser had swallowed the fighter whole. But within moments a chain reaction of shudders shook the vessel until it suddenly exploded, taking a
smaller support ship and several Kustani fighters with it.
Sinclair watched the two blips intersect then wink out. Once the reports of the destruction of the Kustani ships came in, CIC erupted in cheers. He couldn’t blame the men for cheering, there’d been precious few victories in the past decade, he just couldn’t bring himself to join them. Instead, he handed the headset back to the officer and walked over to the President who, along with Sinclair and Blaine, were the only ones not celebrating.
Sinclair stood silent in front of the two men, there was nothing else to say after all, and waited. Takahashi waited as well, until the cheering had died down.
“General Blaine,” Takahashi began. “You will take command of Moon Base and evacuate all non-essential personnel. Once Dr. Iacola and his staff have finished their work and the assault is launched, you will evacuate everyone else back here.
“General Sinclair, you have command of all Earth defense forces. Get everything you need and launch when ready. You have full and final authority with one exception. I will give the order to fire those missiles when, and if, the time comes. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” Sinclair said, with Blaine following suit a second later.
“Proceed, gentlemen,” Takahashi said. “And may whatever gods there are have mercy on us all.”
NEXT WEEK: The Final Battle Nears
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