CHAPTER VII : STARDUST
Gone… She was gone… I couldn’t even begin to understand what had happened right in front of my eyes… I was too late…
I realized only afterwards that we did not manage to save Thesar. So focused on bringing down the last of the starfighters, I saw that it had changed course suddenly and managed to hit it three times with my lasers, setting fire to its engines and wings. I watched as the fire spread on the hull of the ship and the whole vessel exploded, killing the scum that was piloting it.
And then, as I turned my head to where I had last seen Thesar, I realized it. There was nothing left. Pieces of hull and scrap floated in the vacuum of space, lifeless and broken. But of my friend, there was nothing left.
I felt tears filling my eyes as I fought to keep them from falling down my cheeks. For a moment, nothing seemed to be important to me anymore. I had forgotten our purpose, our mission…
“Gold Four. Gold Three, do you copy? This is Gold Leader. Please respond. Where’s Gold Five, I can’t see her on my screens!”, said Asher of Elinzer in the comlink.
I noticed the fear in his voice. The fear of having to admit that we were too late… too slow… That we did not save her.
I opened the communication channel of my comlink but as I opened my mouth, no sound came out. My heart was bursting in my chest and I felt cold in my whole body.
“She’s gone, sir.”, answered Julius Makinter. “Lightbringer has been destroyed. There was nothing we could have done.”
His tone was calm and flat but I knew Julius too well to not notice the absence of warmth in his voice. He was fighting his feelings as well. Trying to keep his head levelled and his mind on the battle as I should try to do as well…
We knew the risks in coming here. We always knew, I supposed… even if no one would talk about it openly. We thought we were prepared to see one of us fall… one day… Yet, we would only joke about it, mention it as if it could never happen… Until one day it finally hits us.
“May she find her way on the path to the Light”, said Asher of Elinzer. “Myra, Julius… We push forward. The Constellation and The Dark Star have begun their attack on the shield wall and need our assistance. We redeploy around Sector W-23 and attack the nearest cruiser as one. Understood?”
“Yes sir”, replied Gold Three at once.
Julius’ starfighter, “Harpoon” turned back towards the wreck of the Vegarel cruiser, slowly drifting away in the darkness of space. I turned my ship and followed his way towards the rest of the squadron.
Beyond the wreck of the cruiser we had just destroyed, an immense blue and green shield wall was dressed as a barrier by half a dozen Vegarel cruisers between the Imperial Army and “The Bull”. The last line of defense raised to delay anyone trying to board the Imperial cruiser. From my seat inside my starfighter, I could already see laser blasts being shot from the massive and ill-shaped Vegarel cruisers against swarms of Imperial starfighters, buzzing around their turrets like annoying insects.
Breathing deeply, I managed to get hold of my senses again. This was no time to grieve… Not yet. We would have plenty of time for that once the battle was over. Right now, what was important was revenge. Every Vegarel that I would kill, I would kill in her name, I silently swore to myself.
It is almost scary how sadness and grief can turn to anger and hatred. My heart that was close to bursting only minutes ago seemed to be boiling in my ribcage. I wanted to kill, I wanted to hurt them for what they did.
“Arrow formation, lads. I take the lead. Any of those gutter rats come between us and the shield wall, you shoot them down dead. Understood?”, said Asher of Elinzer, his voice shaking in anger and grief.
“Understood, sir”, answered Ellios of Cronos in the “Sandstorm”, taking his place in the formation at the right of Asher’s “Lightning”.
“Let’s fuck’em good… Ashar Erkrezt! Ashar Makkhak!”, growled Nakar-Tess Alkor in the massive “Bloodmoon” as he took his place at the left of Asher of Elinzer.
I smiled then… “Ashar Erkrezt! Ashar Makkhak”, indeed… I remembered the day when Nakar-Tess had told me the meaning of those words “To Death we ride! For Death we bring!”. Chronogians had their own way to deal with grief and it was with rage. For once in my life I felt more Chronogian than Human…
“Ashar Erkrezt! Ashar Makkhak”, I roared in the comlink, taking my place right behind “Bloodmoon”, ready to do my part in the formation.
It was almost a surprise when Julius’ Harpoon came at my right, taking the place that would have been Thesar’s and answered my cry in the comlink : “To Death!”
The cry was picked up by Asher of Elinzer and Nakar-Tess Alkor and before we knew it, we were all screaming the same two words in our comlink.
We flew as one right to our targets. A handful Vegarel starfighters tried to stop us by cutting out path but before they could do anything they were shot down by our laser blasts, aiming to their engines, wings and pilot seats. We were showing no mercy, only leaving dust behind us and the few limbs that were remaining of the pilots we destroyed.
Arriving in front of the Vegarel cruisers, we directed our ships to the one blocking the path of The Constellation and The Dark Star. The Silver Squadron was already there and seemed to be filled by the same rage and determination as us as they were launching bombs and missiles with deadly precision.
Everything was a blur, we plunged right into the fray, not thinking twice and started to launch everything we had. Firing every laser turrets, launching both bombs and missiles to their hulls, windows, turrets…
The ships were on fire and exploding everywhere. Men were pouring out of the huge holes in the cruiser’s hulls. We never stopped for them, and our ship would crush them, flying through them as they were drifting off into space, tearing their flesh and bones and bursting them into oblivion.
It took only a few minutes before the first Vegarel cruiser began to fail and the shield wall broke. I watched with delight in my heart and rage in my eyes the huge Vegarel monstrous ship breaking into pieces and bursting into flames and explosions.
I barely heard the cries of victory from the Silver and Gold Squadron and only glimpsed The Constellation and The Dark Star boarding “The Bull”.
We had won, I could see it. Everywhere the Vegarel were retreating and scattering. Pursued and hunted down by Imperial starfighters and Corvets as the more imposing cruisers were coming towards the remnants of the shield wall, ramming the Vegarel ships that were too slow to get into warp speed immediately.
Behind our formation, I could see an Imperial Cruiser ramming the next Vegarel Cruiser, tearing the hull asunder. Smaller Imperial Auxilliary Corvets were boarding the ship while escape pods launched from the cruiser were being destroyed by Imperial Starfighters.
We had won but I felt empty… As the adrenaline and anger were dwindling, I thought of Thesar again. She had been a friend to me from the day I arrived in the squadron. Protecting me from the other, senior officers and pilots, and accepting me as one of her own kin.
“We are part of a family”, she had once said to me, “Every ship of our squadron is like a brother or a sister to me, as I am to them. One day, they’ll look at you and call for your help and you will be there to give it to them.”
She had smiled then… But when it had been her turn to call for help, we could not save her. Tears fell from my eyes and I let myself cry for good.
This was her victory. Or at least, it should have been… She died protecting her family. Protecting the Empire. She died as an Imperial pilot would…
At this instant, I knew that she had been right. The squadron is a family… And it was my turn to take my place among them…