Authors: David Adams
A Short Story set in the Lacunaverse
"20% of aircraft ejections result in the pilot sustaining career-ending injuries, such as death."
Toralii Mining Colony
Near the TFR Sydney
During the events of Lacuna: The Sands of Karathi
I heard the splintering of glass reverberate around the cockpit of my strike craft as the Toralii energy pulse I had somewhat unsuccessfully tried to dodge ended its journey through space and blew right through my ship. Instantly the inside of the canopy turned crimson, my blood splattering against my Heads-Up Display as the decompression alarm sounded. Air hissed out the hole, sucking the blood splatter towards it and out into the void like some bloody flower blooming right all over my cockpit.
My wound didn’t hurt, but I knew this was
. I hadn’t seen this much blood since the accident.
It’s the year 2037. My name’s Mike Williams, but everyone calls me Magnet. I’m an Australian Air/Space Force pilot and I fly the SSF-01
. It’s a zippy little space fighter that looks something like a F-4 Phantom with stubby little wings, wings which really just serve as mounts for the reaction control system and as hardpoints to mount missiles. Wings in space don’t do anything much, although their weight
steady the craft a little bit, and the reaction control system that allows us to do fine maneuvering requires them.
They call me Magnet because it’s short for
, which is good old-fashioned military humour at its finest. At age fifteen, my face picked a fight with the propeller of my family's boat, on a shoal near Broome, off Western Australia. The boat drifted onto a sandbar and I got out to push, but slipped and fell, cutting my face up real good.
I don’t really remember much of what happened after that, but my dad said the coast guard flew out a helicopter to pick me up. He’d never seen so much blood before and he was certain I wouldn’t make it.
Turns out not only did I pull through, I managed to keep both my eyes too. The same couldn’t really be said for most of the rest of my face, though, no matter how many times the plastic surgeons tried to repair it. I always looked like I had some kind of fake featureless mask over my “real” face, and even the extensive surgeries couldn’t eradicate the half-dozen or so slashes going right from my jawline to my temple.
It was kind of ironic that Halloween was the only time I wasn’t scary. When I felt normal, when I felt like I fit in. I’d just grin and say it was a really good mask... imported from America, or something like that. Some people didn’t buy it but overall it worked pretty good.
I got through high school with a mixture of dogged determination and the charity of my teachers, then enrolled in the Air Force. I’d always wanted to fly and – let’s face it – being model was now a little bit out of the realm of even extreme possibilities. I got to fly and life was good.
In 2029 life got interesting. I’d been serving with the Australian Air Force for a number of years as a pilot, when an alien species called the Toralii showed up. It turns out that a few places on Earth – Sydney, Tehran, Beijing – were developing some kind of teleportation device... a jump drive that could transport a spaceship around. It was going to change everything.
turns out that the technology is inherently dangerous and the Toralii have some way of detecting it. They obliterated the three cities, transmitted a warning in Chinese, then vanished.
Humanity had two choices. Be little bitches and give up all hope of having this technology, or build it anyway and fight for our right to use it.
The major world powers formed a task force to deal with this problem... Task Force Resolution. They built three ships, naming them after the three cities that were destroyed. The Australians crewed the
, the Iranians got the
and the Chinese manned the
Although it was the second ship off the line, in the beginning the
saw the majority of the action, including the first real confrontation with the Toralii. It was in that confrontation that we learned – against conventional thought at the time – that the Toralii used little fighters as companions to their larger ships in space battles.
Military intelligence thought that strike craft would be too slow and too weak to hurt the larger ships but, shock horror, military intelligence got it wrong. The unexpected and effective presence of those little birds, pecking away at the
hull, convinced the task force that we should have them too.
A space craft was hurriedly designed and built, while tryouts were held amongst the world’s best air forces... with the Israelis eventually claiming the prize. The Iranians protested, of course, and insisted on providing their own pilots. The Australians went with the Israelis, but wanted to have at least one of their own pilots on the
just to maintain an Australian presence.
They picked me. Lord knows why.
I was ecstatic at the time, but as I watched drops of my blood float up and get sucked out the giant hole in my canopy, and as my strike craft slowly tumbled end over end and drifted away from the battle, I began to see the events that had taken me to this point in a slightly less than positive light.
We’d been given the task of assaulting a mining colony. It was thought that there might be humans held prisoner there – the
had gone missing and there was a good chance the Toralii were using its crew as slave labour – and it was thought that the colony would be unprepared and lightly defended.
s Broadsword gunships had been picking up a handful of prisoners, while the rest of us took defensive fire from the colony. It was random and light until the Toralii launched strike craft from the surface and, I had to tell you, then I was pretty excited. The
had seen combat before I’d been transferred to her, but this was the first time I was going head to head with the Toralii myself.
I still kinda hoped it wouldn’t be my last.
I reached up and fumbled for the distress signaller, flicking it on. The red light in the corner of the cockpit which indicated duress lit up just like it was supposed to. Too brightly, actually, much lighter than the rest of my instruments. I frowned. What the hell was the designer thinking, putting in a bulb so bright... as if the pilot wasn’t already aware he was royally fucked.
The moment the
had appeared in the Lagrange point near the Toralii mining colony and we’d shot out from her launch tubes like little darts, banking and turning down towards the colony, holding off until our our short range radars lit up and we saw the hostile ships coming to meet us.
Fortunately, we had the element of surprise. I got an early lock, letting off two missiles the moment I had good tone. We always fired two at once... they called it ‘ripple fire’. The reason why we did this was, well, they called them
iles, and for the cost of an extra missile we’d want to make sure we hit our target.
Both missiles went straight in, striking the centre of the Toralii bird in quick succession, causing the ship to burst into a bright pinprick of light against the backdrop of space. A pretty good showing for my first day out. Then, well, the anti-fighter fire started up again, stronger this time, and... well, that’s about where we came in.
Eject, Eject, Eject
flashed the HUD, the wail of alarms drowning out the hiss of escaping air, but I knew better than that. With this much blood my suit had to have been holed, too... so I’d be a gonner minutes after I bailed out. The ship had a much greater supply of oxygen than my piddly little suit and I was losing so much every kilo mattered; the only thing to do was to sit with it, try to get back to the
if I could and go down fighting if I couldn’t.
Come on you bastard,” I growled, struggling for a moment with the control column. Moving in three dimension was different than flying in an atmosphere; you could stop, move backwards, fly up or down... so I had more control surfaces to play with than atmospheric fighters had. All that experience I’d gained in atmospheric FA-18’s was little help at this juncture.
Somehow, the fighter responded to my touch and levelled out. I realized that, in my struggle, the cord leading from my headset to the instrument dashboard had come loose. With bloody hands I reached up and plugged it back in.
-agnet, I say again,
. You’re leaking atmosphere.”
, this is Vulture – we’ve lost Magnet, can’t raise him on comms. Initiate SAR, he’s drifted well outside of the combat zone so should be retrievable.”
I reached out and touched the talk key on my radio. “Calm the fuck down, I’m here,” I grunted into the microphone, levelling my wings level to the
Shaba’s voice laughed into my headset. Shaba, better known as Lieutenant Rachel Kollek, was the pilot of our Search and Rescue Broadsword
. Shaba was Hebrew for Ghost and she’d named her Search and Rescue Broadsword herself.
... because it saved your bacon.
Magnet, this is
. Request update on SAR mission. How you holding up there, hot stuff?”
I craned my head, trying to see where I’d been wounded. I could still feel no pain although blood continued to trickle into my cockpit. “Update as follows; I fucking ate a round, there’s blood all over the cockpit... but I feel fine.”
The mirth faded from Shaba’s voice. “Is your suit breached?”
Are you fucking
? I said there’s blood, there’s a hole
. I’m guessing it hit me in the chest since I can’t feel it anywhere. Could be in my abdomen, though, or my leg... or the arse.”
Shot in the arse. If I didn’t die, I’d be a laughing stock for the rest of my flying days. Might even earn myself a new nickname.
You know protocol. Sit tight, we’re coming to get you.
I swore. The last thing I needed was search and rescue coming to cart my sorry arse away on my very first entanglement in space... I’d probably never live it down.
I swung my nose back towards the action. Toralii fighters and Wasps darted around each-other in an entirely disorganized fashion, with the much larger Broadswords weighing in with their autocannon turrets; I flicked through the radio channels, listening into their combat chatter. As I watched, three of the Toralii strike fighters – we called them ‘Badgers’ because they were squat and fat but packed a hell of a fight and were as tough as nails – broke off from the main engagement and headed my way.
A voice crackled in my headset. “Magnet,
. We spot three bandits coming in at your twelve o’clock high – you see ‘em?”
I still had six missiles left. I flicked my targeting radar on, but the display glass was cracked and broken. Swearing, I used my HUD to bring up my guns, but the console just kept flashing
Eject, Eject, Eject
. I risked a glance down to my instruments – it looked as though the Toralii fire had damaged the autoloader.