Flight of the Claymore -chapter 13

Chapter 13
Amazon Command, Bella Rosh, New Texas 0730
Supreme Commander Victor Von Bencher walked once more into his control center. He looked around and smiled. The once chaos filled room was now replaced by order. He smiled as his new XO walked over to him. His plans for putting down the rising rebellion and riding himself of Rice had worked perfectly. Sum Commander Markus Stone may not be one of the Elites, but his loyalty was unquestioning. Where Rice’s loyalties were only to the Council, Stone was a Military Man through and through.

“Sir, Operation Nighthawk went off without a hitch.” Stone saluted and handed over a written report on the Operation last night. “No witnesses to the cleanup, sir.”

“What about the strikes on the targeted cities?”

“All in the report sir. Total devastation of all four cities. Unfortunately, we suffered heavy losses. All four regiments failed to clear the blast areas in time. Sub Commander Rice is among the dead.”

Von Bencher had to fight to keep the smile off his face. His plan had truly worked. The rebellion would soon be nothing but a thing of the past. With no witnesses to the bombings and losses on both sides Von Bencher could blame the New Texans. He now had enough evidence to frame the nuclear attacks on the New Texans in the eyes of the Hall of Judges. The Amazon Collective will be free to do as they wished now on New Texas. And any other planet they wish to conquer though the legal system. “What of the rogue bomber crews?”

“All were taken care of by the Black Witch, sir. She and her flight were able to track them down. None of those bombers returned from their illegal mission, sir.” Of all the things that Von Bencher want to hear, this was the most important.

“Then all is in readiness for Operation Thunder Struck?” Von Bencher asked.

“Not yet sir. We need to finish consolidating our forces on the Panhandle Plains. Another forty-eight to sixty hours before we can even begin operations, sir.” This was not what Von Bencher wanted to hear. The longer it took his forces to regroup and form battle lines the harder it would be for them to defeat the New Texans. “The very countryside that we have worked so hard to subdue in certain areas has become even more unstable. Our supply lines and travel routes are coming under constant attack by guerrilla and irregular forces. It doesn’t matter which route they take the New Texans are there. It is as if they know where we go. Then there is the aerial support they have been receiving from the White Sands base. If we are to get Operation Thunder Struck off on time that base needs to be suppressed sir.”

Von Bencher knew that Stone was only telling the truth. The biggest thorn in his plan to blame the New Texans for the war was the New Texans themselves. Unless he could rally his forces, the Texans would keep them separated and tear them apart one unit at a time. It didn’t matter how powerful those units were, sooner or later the Texans would over run them. The Texans were as rebellious as their ancestors. Not that it would change things in the end. Be the end of the month his forces would crush all opposition on this planet, and it would all be thanks the Imperial Military Forces. He just needed to force the Imperials hand. The problem was how.

Then it came to him. “XO I want that base at White Sand leveled. Do we have the bombers to handle the mission?”

“Yes, sir. The twenty-ninth and thirty-second bomber squadrons can reach the base and return. They also have the needed escort fighters to reach that far. Given three hours we can pound that base into nothingness.”

“Make sure that there is nothing left of that base. No nukes. Anything else is on the table. In fact, use the Daisy Cutters. I want no survivors understood?” Von Bencher’s orders were all that his new XO needed to hear. They were finally done pussyfooting around with these ignorant Free breeders.

White Sands Research and Development Center 0545
Terresa Cole’s tent near the flight line.
Lilly woke me at the usual time. I was slightly surprised when James had not accepted my offer to stay the night with me. I was so sure that he would have tried to advantage of my weakened state of mind last night. I have never let my guard down like that. Yet, he was the prefect gentleman. All he did was escort me back to my tent, kiss me one last time, then bid me goodnight. Prince James Nakatoma could have any woman he desired, he had no use for someone like me.

‘Terresa, I must say that you have come a long way in accepting your new-found femininity. What brought on this change of heart?’

‘Nothing really Lilly. I’ve just gotten tired of fighting with myself and these new emotions. I don’t want to be like a few of my friends back at the academy went through unexpected gender swaps during their Second-Gen processes. It took them months to come to terms with their new sexes. I remember one of the docs there telling them that the only way to move forward with their lives through acceptance. I just got tired of fighting is all and accepted my life as a woman.’

‘Terresa, I am surprised by your change in attitude. For the last month you have barely done more than bathe and change your lingerie. You barely accept the fact that you now have to wear a bra and panties. Then last night you go and invite a man back to you tent for a sexual encounter. Terresa, I know that part of your problems has come from the missing pieces of the COBRA programing. I believe that there is one part that was only there partially at the beginning and now is completed. It has been this part that has caused you the most emotional turmoil.’

‘Lilly what are you talking about?’

‘It took me a while, but I have found the missing parts to the behavioral programing protocols for the COBRA. That programing has slowly been writing the replacement parts of the protocols. I didn’t want to bring this to your attention unless you needed them to hide. I believe that despite my best efforts to control that aspect of the COBRA program it has overtaken control. Should I shut it down?’

I thought about what Lilly had just told me. The more I thought about it the more that I realized it was for the best. I may have cursed the COBRA program at first for what it had put me and my family through, but it had saved my life in the end. If that same program was now helping me adjust, to being a female, then so much the better. I know that Lilly could now shutdown certain parts of the program. Yet this is one part that I think she needs to leave alone.

‘No Lilly. Leave it alone. Just let it run its course.’ I knew that Lilly wanted to object so stopped her before she could start in on me. ‘I know what I’m doing here Lilly. I believe that it is in my best interest to allow that program to help me with adjusting to my new life.’

‘Very well, Terresa. I’ll do as you say for now. But if I feel that it is making unnecessary or excessive behavioral adjustments I will shut it down. Understand?

‘Sure, Lilly. I get it.’ I could tell that Lilly didn’t like the COBRA program even though it saved her life as well. I sat up on my cot and stretched. For the first time I noticed that I had slept in the nude. Just as I had always done. Something I hadn’t done in the last month. Until last night I had been sleeping in panties and bra. I quickly dress in fresh lingerie. Pulling on my bathrobe I head for the shower station. I take my flight suite and boots for the day with me.

It doesn’t take me long to reach the shower station at this time of the day. I don’t even have to wait for a showerhead to open up. We may be in the middle of a desert, but the late nighttime and earlier morning hours are the coolest parts of the day. Dropping more than thirty to fifty degrees from the daytime highs. As I lather up my hair I let my mind go over what might have happened during the night. I knew that the Amazons were pushing all across the planet in an attempt to consolidate their hold on New Texas. I also knew that the New Texans were giving them mortal hell at every turn and the Death Dealers haven’t even moved out to organize them yet. I thought about what I knew of the regular Death Dealers.

They were experts in all forms of warfare except one, that was aerial combat. It is also why most of the time Death Dealer units are given an Air Support Wing from the Imperial Navy or regular Imperial Army. Most Death Dealer pilots only fly attack and transport choppers. Sylvia told me that it has something to do with the way the new Second-Gen bio-AIs and the speeds of aerospace fighters interact.

Sylvia wouldn’t go into detail when I asked her what she meant. But I found out through my own investigations. AI-burnout. It was a very real and very dangerous thing. The first time I heard of it was during my time at flight school. Two of my classmates had died that way. It wasn’t until after I had completed flight training that I was able to get the real story behind their deaths. I have known about AI-burnout for awhile now. It is a real fear for all fighter pilots. Push too hard, and slam, AI-burnout. No one knows what causes burnout, but it is real.

Terresa, I have been going over the symptoms of AI-burnout. I think I have figured out why and how we are immune.’

‘Well don’t keep me in suspense Lilly. Tell me already.’

‘Hyper Hysteria Savant Syndrome. The very thing that prevented you from receiving a Bio-AI in the first place is what makes you immune to AI-burnout.

I was halfway back to my tent and stopped dead in my tracks. ‘Are you sure of this Lilly? I mean absolutely fracking positive.’

‘My calculations put your H.H.S.S. as the counter to AI-burnout at ninety-eight-point-nine percent. I cannot give you more than that as a guarantee I’m afraid.’

I almost fall over laughing at hearing Lilly’s estimated guarantee. The fact that she has just given me the answer to AI-burnout with a better than fifty-fifty chance of working was unbelievable. The answer to the greatest problem facing aerospace fighter pilots has been in my genes the whole time.

‘Um… Terresa, why are you laughing?’

“Lilly, my dear, crazy AI. Do you realize that for more than thirty years now scientists have been looking for the cure to AI burnout among fighter pilot Second-Gens. Do you think that there is a way for H.H.S.S. to be induced on purpose?’

‘Not only can it be induced on purpose, but it can be done so with ease. The doctors only need to copy your genetic makeup. With a few small code changes perfect Second-Gen Death Dealer Aerospace Fighter Pilots. The one thing that will separate the two will be the fact that the pilots will lack the Second-Gen Weapons.’

‘Wait. Are you saying that any aerospace fighter pilot will not be armed like myself? Why?’ I really needed to know the answer before I went to the boss with this new ‘cure’. Even as I was forming the first question a second one came to. ‘How many of the new pilots would be Claymores?’

‘I’ll answer the last one first, Terresa. Almost none would be Claymore. The standard ratio will hold true, even among these new Death Dealer pilots. AS for them not being armed like normal Second-Gens, the answer is harder to explain. It revolves around the need for denser muscle groups, and higher nerve bundle counts. Just as you have these things, they will need them as well. There just isn’t the room for the standard configuration.’

I thought about what Lilly just explained. It made sense in a weird way. If you don’t need personal weapons to fight a war why carry them but if you need massive reflexes, and extreme muscle control, like to fly an aerospace fighter at Mac 6. Then you double them and pack them in tight. Just the way they are with me. ‘Can the current batch of fighter pilots on the base undergo the upgrade?’

‘Sorry, but no Terresa. Once a person has gone through the Second-Gen process there is no way to change their current configuration. To try would be tantamount to suicide for the pilot in question.’

That very blunt confirmation by Lilly let me know that only the pilots back at the academy were going to prosper from our break through. That is unless a we get those crop duster pilots sometime soon. I know that I shouldn’t put a whole lot of faith in pilots that have never flown more than a low altitude turboprop civilian aircraft. But these men and women flew nap of the earth every day of the week. That one skill alone made most of those pilots better than most. The problem is none of those pilots have yet to arrive. Until then it was just me and the few pilots of the R-n-D Squadron. If Captain Heartlow can get the transport pilots up to speed on the Strike Eagles that’ll give us another eight badly needed pilots.

‘Terresa, we need to head for the TOC. I just scanned a broadcast from the New Texan Nightly News Network. The Amazons have used thermonuclear weapons on four of the New Texas stronghold cities.’ Lilly went silent for a minute. ‘Terresa, they used heavy long-range bombers for the attacks. The bad news is the Amazons are trying to blame the New Texans for their criminal attacks.’

“Aw shit!” I started running towards first my tent. I needed to drop off my toiletries and grab my flight helmet. “Lilly if those frack sticks have already used nukes once they’ll do it again. Get ahold of my mother, Sylvia, and Colonel Kelly. Have them meet us at the TOC. Do it now and don’t argue.”

I never slowed down in my run for the TOC. I knew that I would be needed. As I passed my fighter I called out to the groundcrew. “Get her ready for air-to-air, boys and girls. Lose the ground attack ordinance. I want full air superiority weapons on the Silver Eyed Witch when I get back.”

I was already beyond ear shot by the time they answered me. I knew that my crew would follow my orders and didn’t worry. As I passed each bunkered fighter I repeated my orders. It was only at the last fighter that I was questioned by the groundcrew chief. It happened to be Captain Heartlow’s fighter. I stopped and explained my orders and the reason for giving them. He just saluted and told me to get to the TOC. He would insure that my orders were carried out.

AS I entered the TOC area I was brought up short by the guards there. Only after I showed and confirmed my Id did they let me pass. I wanted to pound the two Corporals but knew they were only doing their jobs. As I stepped inside, I was greeted by the expected chaos of someone doing the unthinkable. I looked around the room until I spotted the one person that I needed to talk to the most, James.

Stepping over to stand beside him. “Sir, can I speak with you outside for a moment?”

James looked at me, then nodded his head while waving towards the door. Once outside he leads me to a secluded area. “About last night Terresa.”

I placed my right index finger over his lips. “Hush James. You were a prefect gentleman. I was the one in the wrong. Now, that being said, please hear me out. For the last month I have fought being female tooth and nail, kicking and screaming all the way. Every time I have been around you, you turn me inside out, upside down, and totally crazy, emotionally. I don’t know why, nor do I care anymore. Lieutenant Colonel James Nakatoma, I love and respect you.” I sighed heavily. “There I got that out of the way.”

James just stood there for a minute before pulling me into a warm embrace to be followed by a deep toe curling, gut churning, breath stealing, heel popping, kiss. When we broke he looked down into my eyes with a smile that showed his true feelings. “Flight Lieutenant First Class Terresa Cole, I don’t have the words to express how I feel towards you. All I know is I want to spend the rest of my days at your side.”

“Will your mothers’ have a problem with you marrying someone like me? I mean I am a Claymore for fracks sake.” I knew that this could be a very real concern among the Royals, Nobles, and High Families.

“Don’t worry about my mothers, Terresa let me handle them. As for the Nobles and High Families, frack’em. I’ve dealt with more than a few of those over indulged cunts and their families to last me a lifetime.” He ran the index finger of his right hand down my jawline while smiling. “Now, tell what has, you running through the doors of the TOC at this time of the morning?”

“What you haven’t heard about the nuke strikes?” I asked in surprise.

“WHAT nuke strikes?” James asked in total shock. “What the hell are you talking about? Nobody would be stupid enough to have dropped a nuke.”

“Yes, they have. The Amazons used heavy long-range bombers, James. The cities of Well Cap, Long Horn, Six Shooter, and Pecos were all bombed last night.”

The significance of those four cities as targets hit James like a ton of APS armor. He grabbed my hand pulling me back towards the TOC. “Come on love. We need to let General Davenport know about this.”

As I was practically dragged back inside I asked. “What are you talking about? Doesn’t she know already?”

“No body in there knows, Terresa. This is the first that anyone has heard of a nuke strike. How in the world did you hear about it?” James demanded as we reentered the TOC at a dead run.

“Lilly, picked up a broadcast on the attacks. I thought that it was a report coming into the TOC.” I quickly asked Lilly where she picked up that message.

‘It was on the news networks Terresa.’

“Oh shit. James, Lilly just told me where she found that report. It was on the news networks. If that report was on the networks that means the Amazons are going to blame the New Texans for sure. If they haven’t already. Because if they don’t then the Empire comes in on the side of the Texans, and they get plastered.” It was all making sense now. Well at least to me it was.

James didn’t even bother with decorum. He just walked right up to the map table and interrupted Davenport’s morning briefing. “The fracking game has changed people. The River Sluts went and popped four to eight nukes last night.”

I thought that Davenport and her Command Staff were going to shit bricks hearing this. Colonel McManus was the first to question James. “How the hell did they launch as nuke without setting off the early warning network, Colonel?”

James just waved me over. “Sir, the only way that they could. Heavy long-range bombers were used. I know that they have them. I shot down six during the battle for the old Division TOC. Avro Mk-1 Manchester Heavies and sir, if they have those they have access to something heavier. Something that could carry a forty-four Rockeye all the way up to sixty-six minutemen.”

The fact that I just gave the Command Staff the range of nuclear weapons that could be delivered undetected by the early warning system had them all glaring at me. “No offence sirs, but every aerospace pilot knows about those weapons. We also know what it takes to deliver them.”

“Lieutenant Cole, I don’t care what every pilot knows. What I want to know is why didn’t you fracking stop them?” Demanded one of the Texans.

I looked over at the man and ground my teeth as I answered him. “Listen up, you jackbooted asshole. I have been flying three to four missions per-day, every day, since this whole mess started. I won’t even go into the number the other pilots have flown. The entire aerospace contingency of this base is pushing our limits. We need to sleep, eat, and take a shit sometime. So, unless you got twenty to thirty pilots, with fighters, sitting around someplace with their thumbs up their asses BACK THE FRACK OFF!”

I know that I was out of line but didn’t care. If the stupid S.O.B. opened his mouth one more time I was going to shoot him. I already had my hand on my sidearm. My reflexes were faster than anyone’s here I knew that I could clear my holster and kill this man before they could stop me. The hand on my shoulder was the only thing stopping. That and the ever-present bodyguards for James and his Lance.

“Lieutenant Cole, I suggest that you regain your military bearing before you get into further trouble, NOW.” I looked over at Colonel McManus and sighed. “As for you Governor Ferguson I would reign in your attitude towards our pilots. They are the only ones that are keeping your two medium class divisions from being blasted into the hereafter. Remember that old saying from Earth Prime. Never have so many owed so much to so few. That is what we are currently facing.”

“I don’t really care. If you don’t have enough pilots for those fancy fighters out there, then order the pilots you do have to undergo whatever process they need to, to become a whatever they need to be to fly one.” Ferguson looked over at me. “Besides, who cares if a few Claymores die in the defense of my planet. That’s what they’re there for isn’t it? They’re nothing more than disposable weapons anyway.”

I wanted to kill the man just then. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to kill the Governor for New Texas. More than one of the officers in the TOC were brandishing weapons at this point. All of which were pointed in Ferguson’s direction. It was into this very charged situation that Command Sergeant Major Southerland walked. I just knew that he was going to exasperate things.

“Ferguson, you dumb son-of-a-bitch you just had to go and piss their cornflakes. What the hell were you thinking man?” Southerland grabbed a hold of Ferguson and dragged him from the TOC. “Shut your damned pie hole. Let me handle this from now.”

When CSM Southerland returned he saluted General Davenport. “Ma’am, I would like to apologize for the people of New Texas. Ever since we lost our Commanding Generals and their staffs he has THOUGHT he was in charge. It was his stupid assed orders that forced the River Sluts to pop the nukes.”

I stood there just staring at Southerland in total disbelief. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. His next words almost caused me to drop to my knees in despair. “Between those four cities we lost close to four-hundred-thousand people. All thanks to that man’s stupidity and his Irregular troops. I told him to end those attacks in the cities, but he just won’t listen to me. In his mind the cities are where we needed to defeat the Amazons.”

General Davenport put my thoughts along with all those around me into words. “For the love of the gods! Why couldn’t he just let the professionals do our job!”

“Pride. That and politics ma’am. He was due for reelection before the war started. He kept going on, and on, about how if he could win the war he would be assured the Governor’s Mansion for life.” All eyes turned towards the door to the TOC. My eyes weren’t the only ones to bugout at the sight of the woman standing there.

At just under six-foot-tall, with an athletic build, wearing Empyreal Marines Battle Dress, with the trademark Campaign Hat, there was no way anyone could not know who this woman was. No one knew where she went after she retired, but here she stood. One of the meanest, toughest, Drill Instructors of all times. Here was the person to whip a band of ragtag want-to-be fighter pilots or ground pounders into shape. No one knows how many Marines she trained over a twenty-year career. Shit I couldn’t believe that I would get the chance to actually serve with her.

Southerland just turned and smiled. “About damned time you got here Sergeant Major Bougus. I hope like hell you got a bunch of firebreathers with you.”

The smile that came to the Sergeant Major Bougus face sent a chill down my spine. “They may be one-hundred percent all natural, Sergeant Major, but they know how to fly. You give them a fighter and my kids will bring you back kills. I got enough PDF pilots to give you a fighting chance. Two Squadrons worth to be honest.”

“How the hell did you get two squadrons out here of PDF pilots?” General Davenport demanded of the Sergeant Major.

“We humped our way through, over, and across this damned continent from Minot AB. And now I got some bad news for you. Only one of the two is ready for combat. The one-twenty-seventh can go up now, but the fifty-eighth still needs more training.” Bougus answered Davenport honestly.

I noticed that my mother and sister finally come through the back door. Moving over to them quickly I stop them from coming to far into the TOC. I push them off to one side while Sergeant Major Bougus went over the records for the two squadrons she had brought with her. I knew that I had to get both my mom and sister in on what I was about to propose.

“Mom, Sylvia, what would you say if I told you that I knew how to make more pilots like myself. No, I’m not joking either.”

“Terresa, what have you figured out that we haven’t?” Sylvia demanded.

“Hold your tongue Sylvia.” Mom snapped. “Remember that sometimes the greatest leaps in science are by people outside of the scientific fields.”

“We all know the problem with pilots and AI-burnout. What if the answer is not in removing something but adding something. Say giving the new pilots H.H.S.S.?” I watch as the eyes for both my mother and sister bugout of their heads. I smile. “Look, I know it sounds crazy, but why not use the disorder to save lives. I mean according to Lilly it was my H.H.S.S. that makes me immune to AI-burnout.”

Andria Cole stood there is total shock, while her oldest daughter felt like a total dumbass. The biggest fear and problem for the Military Medical Profession was AI-burnout. And the answer to their problems was in the one person who shouldn’t have an AI. Hyper Hysterical Savant Syndrome has been a deal breaker for joining the military for anyone who suffers from it. The medical profession just knew that H.H.S.S. sufferers would go through burnout before leaving the cocoon.

“Are you sure about this Terresa? You have to be absolutely sure. I won’t play with peoples lives. You know that.” My mother demanded.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m positive. If you and Sylvia use the program for my Secondary-Configuration with a slight modification to induce H.H.S.S. the problem of AI-burnout will be a thing of the past. I’m sure of it.” I was almost pleading by the time I got done. I knew that Lilly was right. “All you need is a sample of my DNA to make the needed adjustments for the nanities to work off. Which the hospital currently has in its blood bank.”

Both my mother and sister looked at me as if had just grown a second head. The idea was so far out of leftfield that neither of them had thought of it. The truth was none of the medical staff had even considered the idea as it was just too far fetched for them to consider. Mom asked me the one question that I knew was going to come up. “What about the chances for the Claymore syndrome?”

“The chances will be the same. That is something that I doubt will be found in my genes or anyone else’s. No, the answer to that problem lies elsewhere.” Then I sighed. “The down side is the new pilots will not have the same self-defense weapons that normal Second-Gen Death Dealers are equipped with. They’ll be just as unarmed as I am. Not that they’ll need those weapons, as their reflexes and strength more than makeup for the lack of weapons. Outfitted with a normal pilot’s survival kit and secondary weapons they’ll be just fine.”

“Okay, what about the gender change problem? Will they undergo forced changes?” Sylvia whispered.

“No more than normal sis.” I dropped my voice as I knew it was a touchy topic. “Maybe one in every twenty. Like I said the only change for these pilots would be the lack of personal defense weapons. Well, that and the fact that their muscle groups, nerve bundles, bone structure, and tendon mass will be ramped up to freak level but other than that they’ll look just like normal people.”

The next thing I know both mom and Sylvia were wrapping me in hugs. Mom put their feelings into words. “Terresa, you may have just saved the lives of this division and this whole damned war. Let’s go Sylvia, we got work to do.”

I watched as my family ran from the TOC. I just shook my head and chuckled. I heard something going on over at the map table and worked my way back over. By the looks on the faces surrounding the table I knew that something shitty was in the works.

“I’m telling you General. With the right air support the plan will work.” I looked over at the Captain that was pushing for his plan to be considered. “We can hit the River Sluts hard and put a major kink in their supply chain.”

“Captain Howser, as much as I would love to give you what you want we just don’t have the aircraft for something like these. We have only two long range transports that can cover the distance. And, only one fighter that can provide cover for that transport. I’m sorry but the answer is still no.” I could tell that Davenport really wanted to run with the plan but just didn’t have the needed assists.

Then out of nowhere a Marine Lieutenant Colonel stepped forward. “Not so, General Davenport. The fifty-eighth has the needed transport craft and the one-twenty-seventh has the fighters. All we need is drop tanks for our transport and fighters. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll get the job done.”

“Colonel McQueen, I know that your people can pull this off, but I have to think about the long game. That transport and those fighters can make all the difference in this war.” I watch as the faces of all those present took on a look of defiance. Especially among the members of the PDF.

I stepped in to stop the PDF members from going rouge on us. “Colonel, before you and your people go off on your own you need to know something. Colonel Andria Cole, and Major Sylvia Cole have broken the AI-burnout problem for Second-Gen pilots. If you give them just two days, we can turn this war around.”

I knew that what I just said was like a bomb going off in the TOC. McQueen was the first to speak. “How sure of this ‘cure’ are they Lieutenant?”

“As sure as I am standing here, sir.” I didn’t think he needed to know that they were family. Especially my family.

“And just how would a Flight Lieutenant First Class know about this ‘cure’?” Bougus asked coldly. I could tell that the woman hated and didn’t trust Claymores.

“I’ll answer that for you Sergeant Major.” The cold harsh tone of his voice had everyone looking over at James. Until now he had kept out of the discussion. He had stood back quietly let General Davenport and her staff work out a plan. Deal with the politics of this planetary mess. He had even kept his cool when Ferguson had called me nothing more than a disposable weapon. “Allow me to introduce the person behind finding the cure for AI-burnout and the holder of the third highest number of aerial kills on New Texas. Terresa Cole.”

The two Marines stood there looking at me with unbelieving eyes. The fact that a mere Lieutenant would have more kills than most of the fighter pilots combined on New Texas was not a well-known fact. Let alone that the pilot was a Claymore on top of that. I waited for the outburst that was sure to come.

“If the Lieutenant is the daughter of Colonel Andria Cole, her word is good enough for me. That is a big fracking if, Colonel Nakatoma.” Bougus snarled. “Oh, and I know Andria Cole only has one daughter, sir.”

“Um… not any more, Sergeant Major.” I said barely over a whisper. The woman turned to look at me before letting her face soften.

“They didn’t catch the quirk in time. Sorry for doubting you ma’am.” Buogus answered honestly. “If your mom has the cure then my people will undergo the new process.” I could tell that she really cared for those under her care. Just as any good NCO would. “How long does it take?”

“We don’t know Sergeant Major, but we can have fighters for them when the cocoons open. Fighters the likes of which there is currently only one.” Colonel McManus told the Sergeant Major. “If I could undergo the process I would do so gladly. Just so I could get behind the stick of a FB-eleven Claymore. That damned bird ain’t nothing but pure death on the wing.”

I wanted to take issue with McManus’s description of the Witch but knew that it was only the truth. When McQueen and Buogus look over at me to confirm this I just smile. Sure, I’ll admit to, I’m proud of the aerospace fighter I helped design. Before I could say anything though a Corporal ran in through the TOC door. “General Davenport, we have incoming heavy and light aircraft. We’re still working on the numbers, ma’am. The force is still too far out for a definitive count. We do know that it is a massive force.”

I don’t even think twice. I ran out the TOC heading towards the flight line and the Witch. This was it. The Amazons were finally coming at us out in the open. I hear feet pounding the ground behind me. Looking over my shoulder I spot McQueen and seven other Marine Pilots. I know they’re Marines by the color of their flight suits. The drake blue flight suits are unique to the Empyreal Marines. I reach my bird first. I smile at the way Chief Daily has armed the Witch.

“Damn Chief! I wasn’t expecting you to go all out like this. What is the loadout?”

“Listen up LT. You got a mix load of missiles. Ten and fourteen. I know that you would want more Mavericks but you’ll need the Sidewinder Rattlesnakes for the escorts. The same goes for the rest of the birds on the flight line. They’re all setup the same way. Air-to-air Interceptor roles only.” Once again Chief Daily worked on connecting my helmet while I strapped into the ejection seat. “We replaced your normal autocannon loadout with an all high-explosive loadout. I upped the cyclic rate, shortened the chain links, and replaced the rounds with caseless rounds. I was able to squeeze in another ten rounds for the cannon. Giving you a total of one-hundred-sixty rounds. That is the good news. The bad news is you have keep an even bigger eye on your heat and ammo count. That monster will eat through that one-hundred-sixty rounds like it was nothing. If you let the heat get to high those caseless rounds will cookoff in the chamber. You’ll end up with a runaway autocannon and no way to stop it. That’s why the trigger for the autocannon is on the throttles now. Along with the triggers for your missiles. Understand?”

“Shit. Any more surprises Chief?”

“Just one LT.” He reached over and pointed to a red toggle switch on my control council. “You flip that switch and you remove the break on the autocannon. You do that, and you control the rate of fire. Only do it if you are in deep shit LT.”

“Got you Chief. Weapon of last resort. Do I have to hold back on the engines?”

“Nope, You’re cleared to push the Witch to her max and not hold her back anymore. I do suggest that you keep a little in reserve.”

I smiled at the Chief’s need to protect me. To always keep something back, something hidden, a hold out as it were. “Gotcha Chief. Anything else I need to know about the weapons setup or are the rest still the same?”

“Everything else is the same. Just remember to keep an eye on your heat LT. Don’t forget to bring my little girl to me in one piece.” He settled my helmet on my head then gave me a thumb’s up. “Glory or death, LT.”

“Glory or death, Chief.” I watched as he dropped to the ground and pulled the cockpit ladder away before I kicked over the engines. Once again, the twin demons of speed roared to life. I could feel the raw power of those powerful engines vibrating the frame of the FB-11. The thought of all that power chained to my will brought a small smile to my face. I knew that nothing in the skies could match me.

I apply a small amount of thrust and maneuver the Witch out of her bunker. I look down the airfield at the eight Fu-4B Corsairs rolling towards the hammerhead. I can tell they’re all refurbished. They may be out of date, but they’ll still pack a punch in a SFT; better known as Strike Fighter Tactics or dogfighting. Even the Strike Eagles would be hard pressed against those old warhorses.

As I turn my nose towards the hammerhead the rest of the fighters pull out of their bunkers. Between the eight Corsairs and the sixteen Strike Eagles we have a sizeable defense force when I add in the Witch. Especially if I can meet the incoming aircraft at range. I really want to get off the ground ahead of the others but this is the order that Colonel McManus put into place for emergencies. As I wait for my turn to take off Lilly brings up the radar scans from the ATC.

“Terresa, this is not good. Look at the size of that return. There has to be at least two full bomber squadrons on their way here. With escort fighters.”

I looked over the radar return and could only sigh. “There’s more than that out there Lilly. Use a binary back sweep and breakdown the overlap. You’ll see what I mean.” I just waited for Lilly to do what I ordered.

When the next sweep crossed the incoming aircraft, Lilly got a real headcount. “Terresa, how did you know there were more than just what I guessed at?”

“Because if the Amazons don’t put this base out of commission within the next four days the New Texans will be able to mount a full defense of their planet. The longer we hold out the longer the New Texans have to organize. The more the Texans organize the stronger their resistance. The stronger the resistance the more likely Empress Maiha will send in Peace Keepers. If the Empress sends in Peace Keepers, the Amazons lose all rights to any holdings on the planet. In other words. They lose, period. Their bid to control the New Confederate System will be thrown out the window. The Amazons have to push now or lose everything. They made the mistake of letting us hold on to this base. They should have either destroyed it outright or taken it from us on the first damned day. Those MLRS batteries failed in their mission. Ever since we have kept the River Sluts at arms reach and out of range for artillery.”

I slowly move onto the hammerhead and line up for takeoff. I watch as the last two Strike Eagles rocket down the strip side-by-side and leap into the skies. Now, it was my turn. With a steady hand I push the throttles forward. Once again, I hear the scream of twin demons chained to my will. At the halfway point I feel the landing gear clear the runway. I pull back on the stick and climb for the skies. I double check the radar and see that the other fighters are already heading towards the incoming bombers. Even as I climbed I felt that something was off. Like we were being baited into a trap. That was when it hit me.

“Lilly, switch to orbital scans. Something is off here girl.”

“What are you talking about Terresa? The size of the radar return is big enough to draw all of our fighters where they belong?”

“Enough to draw off our defenses. The real attack is coming in from another vector Lilly. Run a full scan, now.” I knew I was right about this as I gave Lilly her orders. No way was the attack form the North the true attack force.

She quickly provided me right. “Terresa, there is a force running a jammer program at two-three-zero and coming fast.”

“Oh SHIT! Lilly, that is the REAL attack.”


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