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Forlorn Hope

Posted by SouthPaw, Aug 27 2008, 09:52 AM in FanFic

Forlorn Hope


Jimmy Two Feathers shifted uneasily in the dock, trying to relieve the ache at the base of his spine caused by standing rigidly for over an hour. The sluice grating beneath his feet felt sticky on the soles of his flight boots, a fact which – he reasoned darkly - was probably explained by the outcome of the morning’s cases. Jimmy’s hands were manacled at the wrist and held into a rostrum at the front of the dock. His fingers were forced into stiff metal gauntlets inside the rostrum, through which his punishment would be administered. Though Jimmy prided himself on his nerve, his palms were more than a little sweaty.

Looking around, Lieutenant Two Feathers realised that the courtroom was packed. The galleries held a mixed crowd consisting of a few of the guys from his unit, and a handful the usual ghouls who turned up to watch these proceedings like they were some sort of entertainment vid-feed. Up towards the back, almost hidden by stiffs in weathered uniforms and jocks in sweat-stained flight suits, was a small group of civvies that Jimmy thought he recognised from old photos in Hoi’s locker.

A klaxon sounded, issuing a series of low whoops that bounced around the bulkheads of the courtroom and silenced the low murmur from the crammed galleries. The bailiff hauled himself to his feet. He was a short, fat and balding little captain, who was squeezed into a black uniform of the Justice Corps that might have fitted him twenty years ago when he was first commissioned and still cared. He cleared his throat and bellowed “Order in the court! All rise!”

The Court Martial panel swept into the courtroom; three men who would determine the outcome of the case and whether Jimmy Two Feathers left the courtroom alive, or if he would be dragged dead from the dock and his body ejected from the airlock behind the black curtains at the rear of the room. Jimmy knew, or knew-of, all three men on the panel; Admirals Hughes and Fouché of the Justice Corps had to his certain knowledge despatched more that three squadrons-worth of pilots between them (and if you believed the rumours it was many more).

The last member of the panel was Rear Admiral Rajesh “Tiger” Uthan - representing the operational arm of the Coalition. Uthan’s purpose was to bring some understanding of combat to the career judiciary who sat alongside him. The Tiger had led a near suicidal defence of the colony at Aegis IX, during which he had refused surrender terms on four separate occasions. From an original garrison of fifty men, The Tiger brought five out alive with him when they were finally relieved. Survivors told tales of how Uthan had personally shot two of his own pilots who refused to fly when their nerves had failed in the face of overwhelming odds. Jimmy realised that he would not get much sympathy out of this guy.

The panel took their seats and the gallery sat with them. Admiral Hughes tapped at the small display on the bench in front of him and began to recite aloud in a disinterested monotone.
“Lieutenant James Two Feathers, you stand before this court today accused of insubordination and cowardice in the face of the enemy.”
Jimmy bristled. The two charges against him carried very different sentences; Being convicted of insubordination by refusing to carry out orders, or wilfully acting in a way that contradicts an order, carried a mandatory death sentence. The Coalition simply could not condone its pilots ignoring or subverting the order of their commanders, no matter the reason. They were trained to obey without question and the price for failing to do so was steep to deter any deviation from a tactical commander’s plans.

On the other hand, cowardice was deemed to be a fault of the constitution or psyche of a pilot, being convicted of cowardice lead to dishonourable discharge from the service and a prison sentence. Despite cowardice being the lesser charge, it riled Jimmy Two Feathers more to be accused of it. For more than three millennia his ancestors had been warriors. They had fought fiercely to protect the honour and land of their tribe, their nation, their country and now their species. Never had anyone considered the line of warriors that ran in his blood to be cowards, and it would be a disgrace in the eyes of the spirits and his forefathers to have this stain upon their name.

“According to the Articles of War” Hughes continued “you are to be tried by this court and, if found guilty, justice will be seen to be done.” You mean that these gauntlets will pass a lethal current into by body and I’ll fry right in front of you, thought Jimmy.
“Do you understand the nature of the charges before you Lieutenant Two Feathers?”
“I do sir.” Jimmy replied.
“…and their severity?” Admiral Fouché shot back at him.
“I do sir.”
“How do you plead?” Hughes enquired.
“Not guilty sir.” Hughes sat back in his seat, a slight smile upon his face. Uthan raised an eyebrow in silent query.
“Well then gentlemen, to the facts of the case.” Fouché concluded.

*

“And so, in full knowledge of the order you had received from Commander Ini, and being cogniscent of the pre-flight briefing that imparted upon you the severity of your mission, you abandoned the constructor piloted by Flight Sergeant Hoi.” Admiral Hughes had an almost lecturing tone in his voice.
“Yes sir, my sensors detected an enemy mining group four kilometres away and I boosted to…”
“You abandoned your post. You disobeyed the direct order of your commander to protect that constructor, and you left that vital ship and its brave pilot to die.”
“There were nans sir, three nans and another fig…”
“SILENCE Two Feathers! This court does not care for your excuses!” Fouché bellowed.
“The miner, it died?” Uthan was quiet, his tone was measured.
“Yes sir. I ran out of ammo after taking out its escort and had to finish the miner with rams.”
“Showing flagrant disregard for the integrity of your expensive Mk II issue fighter…” Fouché muttered.
“The facts of the case are clear. We are ready to pronounce.” Admiral Hughes silenced the exchange. The three judges leant forward and voted by tapping the panels set into the desk in front of them.

Jimmy held his breath. Both charges needed a majority verdict.

The Bailiff rose and held the printout in his leather-gloved hand. He turned to the gallery and began to read.
“Of the lesser charge of cowardice in the face the enemy, this court finds the defendant… Not Guilty.” Jimmy let out an audible exhalation and noticed Uthan smiling at him.
“Of the greater charge of insubordination, this court finds the defendant… Guilty!”
There was a murmur in the gallery, and Jimmy thought he heard cheering… “Under the provision of the Articles of War, the penalty for insubordination is death. Lieutenant Two Feathers, you are to be punished for your crime in the presence of your peers and justice will be seen to be done.”
Jimmy waited for the end, the electric death that would shoot through the gloves and into his body.
“You are relieved of your rank, and your service record will bear witness to your crime…”

The Bailiff’s speech was cut off by three rhythmical bangs that reverberated around the courtroom. Up in the gallery a heavy-set man with close-cropped steel grey hair rose to his feet and stared down at the panel of judges. Jimmy saw a gnarled wooden staff in the man’s hand… Wood! Where did this guy get actual wood? The stranger wore a jet black uniform with no lapels, no insignia and no indication of rank.

The court was silent, the judges looked up at the gallery, staring to see who dared to interrupt their proceedings. Jimmy thought that the judges’ faced show signs of recognising the man, Uthan was even smiling a little.
“In accordance with the power granted to me by the Commanders in Chief.” The man spoke, dominating the court room “And under the provisions of the Articles of War…”
“Wolfe…” Admiral Fouché tried to interrupt.
“I claim this man on behalf of the Forlorn Hope!” The man shouted over the top of Fouché.
“Bravo Wolfe!” Uthan clapped, seemingly pleased with this interruption.
Admiral Hughes sighed loudly before banging his gavel on the desk before him.
“So be it. This man will be transferred to 247 Penal Wing from this date until such a time as his sentence is served through death, or the recovery of his honour. This court fully expects the former.” Hughes completed the proceedings with words that made Jimmy almost feint with relief.
“Take him down!”

*

The next time Jimmy Two Feathers saw Wolfe, he was not so sure that he welcomed dodging death back in the courtroom. The man greeted his arrival in the docking bay of a decrepit outpost by unlocking his manacles and leading him through to the quarters.
“Welcome to the 247th Fighter Wing son. They call us the Forlorn Hope and we are the maddest, the baddest, the most worthless pieces of @#(! in the whole goddamn Coalition.”
“Err, Thank you sir…”
“Don’t call me sir son, ain’t none of us here got our ranks no more. You all are just meat for the grinder and I’m the guy that gets to kick your behind out the airlock in a box when we are done with you.”
“Sir? Err, Wolfe?” Jimmy corrected himself.
“See, you are here cos I seen something in you in that courtroom. I don’t like to waste good skills boy, and you got some skills. What you ain’t got is the brains to follow orders but that don’t matter round here.” Wolfe laughed deeply.
“And you Wolfe? What did you do to get here?”
“I like you boy, you got stones. Still if you want to live long enough in here to get killed out there, don’t ask nobody what they done to get here… Now, here’s your billet. Two last things for you to know; One, life expectancy in the Forlorn Hope is about two an’ a half hours flight time so don’t get too settled in. Second, don’t you trust nobody in that room, you ain’t got no friends here boy…”

The pair turned the corner and stepped over the bulkhead into a typical Coalition fighter jocks billet; two rows of bunks ran down the bulkheads of a long room. What wasn’t typical was the reception they got.
“Officer on Deck!” Wolfe shouted.
“Get $#@!ed!” came a call from a bunk a few rows back. There was a series of hissing and cat-calls. Someone even through a screwed-up pair of issue flight-shorts at them, they bounced off Jimmy’s chest and landed on the deck at his feet.
Wolfe laughed at Jimmy’s face. These were not warriors, thought Jimmy, these were little more than animals.
“Don’t mind these boys son, they just a little bit lacking in manners…” He turned and walked out of the billet, leaving Jimmy to get acquainted with his new squad mates.

*

“So here’s the rules freshmeat…” Wolfe stood on an upturned crate in the main hangar, his wooden staff smacking in and out of the palm of his hand. He was addressing a group of assembled pilots new to the Forlorn Hope including Jimmy Two Feathers. “You all are mine until you die, or do something so goddamn stupid-brave they pardon your ass and send you back to your units to die with a rank on your shoulder!” Some of the pilots laughed.
“Look around you.” Wolfe continued “these @#(!-buckets are everyone else’s cast-offs. Pick yourself out something you want to fly, make it space-worthy and do it in the next 16 hours. You fly tomorrow, and no, we ain’t got no flight techs… If you think it is broke, fix it your goddamn self!”
“I’m gonna pick myself something with a sweet little ripchord on it boss…” A pilot joked at the back of the crowd.
“That’s funny Caruthers…” Responded Wolfe “Cos the one piece of kit that we sure-as-@#(! make sure is working is the detonation charge under every pilot seat. If you vanish off my command screen without my say-so your ass gets warmed up by a Type 15 plasma charge…”

*

Jimmy looked hard at the two fighters side-by-side in the bay. They were a Mk I in pretty good shape and a Mk II that looked like it had been on the receiving end of a lot of action. He thought that the Mk I was probably a surplus frame from a squadron that had been upgraded to the newer Mk II, it looked as if it would need minimal work, and that nothing crucial would crap out on him in combat.

The Mk II however was beaten up pretty bad, the bodywork had numerous penetration holes that looked like they were mini gun calibre, there was burn damage on the rear alignment fins, corrosion along the port missile launcher joint and, if he didn’t know better, Jimmy would swear that the sticky smear across the right hand side of the cockpit was the fighter’s previous owner.

Jimmy mused on his choice. The Mk I wouldn’t implode from the pressures of space, which Mk II looked likely to do, however underneath the damage and burnt paint the Mk II was the more capable machine. It offered higher top speed, greater missile capacity and an improved systems package that reduced signature. It was the smart choice and, Jimmy reflected as he dragged a large box of tools over to the Mk II, Mama Two-Feathers didn’t raise no stupid children.

*

The aleph was about 3k in front of the Forlorn Hope, Jimmy would have loved to know the distance a little more precisely but his targeting computer had failed as soon as they had ripped into the sector. The starboard nacelle of his Mk II fighter was making a near-terminal rattle and Jimmy feared that if he put his foot on the booster it might shake itself off entirely. Still, he contemplated as they cruised in ragged formation up to the hole, he had three clips of ammo and a full rack of dumbs – no fighter pilot could ever ask for more.

Jimmy didn’t want to die, but better to go out like this than filling his dress uniform pants on the floor of a packed courtroom. His people were warriors, and if this mission was the one that claimed him then he would at least be able to look his ancestors in the eye when their spirits met.

The pre-flight briefing had been the most chaotic that Jimmy had ever experienced. The forlorn Hope vets, those who had survived their first flight, weren’t even taking notes on their thigh comps. When Jimmy had asked, they told him it was a waste of time. The kind of @#(! they would be flying into didn’t respect no theatre SITREP, tactical briefing, or OODs. No sir, they had muttered, if the Big Black wants to take you then this mission is all the chance she will ever need. Still, Jimmy believed that knowledge was power and so he tried to listen to Wolfe as he laid out the objectives, and the wider operation, even if it was pretty simple.

The booing, catcalls and general lack of discipline had made it hard to concentrate but the essence of the Forlorn Hope’s mission was to ride shotgun for a small force of capships who were tasked with clearing out a hostile sector. Capships, Wolfe had helpfully pointed out, were big and noisy and the enemy was certain to see them coming from a way out. There would therefore be a nice reception planned for them on the other side of the aleph which, Wolfe smiled, was where Jimmy and his new squad mates came in. They were to bust threw the aleph and disrupt whatever ambush lay on the other side.
“So they waste all their prox and ammo greasing us eh Wolfe?” A pilot had called from the back of the briefing room.
“Exactly.” Wolfe had replied deadpan.

With the aleph barely a click in front of the dented nose of his Mk II, Jimmy felt a sense of calm and certainty flood through him. Fear, he reasoned, was born out of the unknown. He knew that this aleph would be camped with everything the enemy could muster so it would not come as a surprise. He knew that he was flying a piece-of-@#(! reject so he didn’t even bother with the instrument checks. He knew that his only chance to redeem his reputation was to let go any inhibitions and fly like the evil spirit he knew he could.

“Good morning boys…” Wolfe’s voice filled Jimmy’s helmet. “…and what a beautiful day for glory!” Jimmy rolled his fighter into alignment with those around him and flipped the arm switch on his twin-rack of dumbs. “The big-birds are incoming to your destination, e.t.a. 30 seconds. You will breach on my mark…” Wolfe meant that the fighters were to enter the aleph together when the capships were in the sector and close to the aleph.

Jimmy’s sensors pinged, multiple contacts entered the sector behind the motley group of Forlorn Hope craft. Capships and escorts lumbered into alignment and then accelerated towards the aleph.

“Ok gentlemen, you will breach and engage hostiles on my mark…” In Jimmy’s experience pilots were reticent to be the first through the aleph, but in reality he felt that being first gave you the advantage – a split second of surprise and the chance of no prox. Once the defenders knew you were coming, you were certain to catch some serious @#(!.
“…mark. Good hunting.”

While the pilots around him pushed their throttles up slowly and inched toward the rotating vortex, Jimmy stamped on his boost and kicked his fighter straight into the hole, yelling the war cry of his ancestors as his battered fighter was pulled into the aleph’s embrace.



Comments

  SouthPaw, Aug 27 2008, 09:53 AM

Yeah,

I didn't think it would be three months either...

What can I say? Work is busy.

  ImmortalZ, Aug 27 2008, 11:07 AM

MOAR! mrgreen.gif

  Death3D, Aug 27 2008, 04:27 PM

'The Big Black', I love it.

 
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