"The most dangerous weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle." - Unnamed Marine.

Blue on Blue Chapter 6: Solid Mettle

Ghorah Khar system, Enigma sector. 2681.350, 20:17

    The Saratoga plunged headlong from the jumpoint into realspace running hell-for-leather toward Olympus station, broadcasting a Mayday in the old captain's voice on a looped tape. She was followed closely by the TCS Coral Sea, chasing after the battered carrier. She was closing so fast that it would be only minutes until she overhauled the Sara. Coming quickly to intervene was the battleship Michigan with a destroyer and cruiser as her escorts. Just as planned, the Coral Sea changed course to defend herself against them. The Saratoga continued on to Olympus station...

TCS Saratoga 20:23

    The ordies worked ceaselessly readying the aircraft for their coming mission, manhandling weaponry into internal bays and occasionaly external hardpoints, their red shirts drenched with sweat whilst purple shirts weaved refueling rigs between the tightly packed aircraft. The strike was intened to cripple or destroyer the battleship (and if possible her escorts too) but if all went to plan it wouldn't matter if the strike failed; they were simply a decoy. The main attack was really the Saratoga, crammed to the gunwhales with marines, an entire MEU, using deceit to get in close to (preferably actually docked with) Olympus station. Of course, since the Saratoga was supposed to be running from them, they had to make it look realistic and convincing, otherwise the ruse would fail. That was the reason that many of the Coral Sea's senior pilots were not about to take part in this strike. The Coral Sea had already sent a smaller force after the Sara, and the older pilots who had previously flown the older type fighters that had been captured with her were about to scramble and 'fend off' the Coral Sea attack. They had been chosen because they were already checked out on the older types and didn't need to be trained to fly them.
    Big Mac and the three squadron commanders were amongst this group, along with Buffalo and some others, flying the two-dozen or so spaceworthy fighters they had captured. Big Mac had taken the opportunity to stake his claim to a Bearcat, and was at this moment getting comfortable, strapping in, and re-familiarising himself with the controls. Everything was roughly where it was supposed to be, so he cinched the straps holding himself to the ejection seat as tight as he could bear them (which was not as tight as he had gotten used to, since he was having to wear a pressure suit) and then breathed out completely, and yanked them tighter still. This meant he could barely move, but if worst came to the worst and he was hit (which shouldn't happen since the Coral Sea aircraft wouldn't actually be shooting at him) or had to eject, the tighter those straps were, the better off he would be.

    A 'start-cart' trundled up and plugged in which gave Big Mac the power needed to start up his own reactor. His systems flickered into life and he gave a thumbs up to the the crew-chief (one he didn't recognise, since 'Kick-it' had stayed on the Coral Sea, which gave him a momentary twinge of doubt, which he brushed away) and the start-cart was unhooked. He aligned the Nav systems from the Saratoga's data feed, double-checked all the systems (including that the IFF was set to squawk 8392), and sealed the canopy. A yellow shirt plane handler directed him so that the Bearcat was placed in front of the blast deflectors, and he waited patiently for the 'go' signal.
    His wingman rolled up beside him, which happened to be Major Roger 'Buffalo' Williams. Big Mac and Buffalo gave the thumbs up, and having no catapult on the Saratoga, unlike the Coral Sea, when the plane handler gave the thumbs up back, Big Mac firewalled the throttle and accelerated straight down the landing/launch bay and out into the black sky. Coming out of burner he glanced over his shoulder to check Buffalo was still there, and having satisfied himself that his wingman was with him and OK, turned to roughly the direction the Coral Sea aircraft were expected from. Without a direct data feed from the SWACs Big Mac and Buffalo would have to rely on verbal information about these craft (the 'bogey-dope') given to them by the carrier until their own on board sensors could pick them up.
    "This brings back a few memories, eh Big Mac?" Buffalo reminisced.
    "One or two," agreed Big Mac.

The vicinity of the TCS Coral Sea, 20:23

    Most of the Piranha complement of the Coral Sea launched and immediately set course for the Enigma jump point. The nimble little fighters had the job of clearing the minefield there but had orders that if they were intercepted they were to make a run for it. Although clearing the Enigma jump point was of high priority, all the escort fighters were tied up in the main attack and decoy. Only if that failed (which would be utterly disastrous) would it be absolutely vital to clear the jump point.

    The Coral Sea then changed course. She had to stay within reasonable range of both the Saratoga and Michigan strike groups. Should they encounter problems, the Saratoga 'strike' group could recover aboard her, but that would entirely give the game away. On the other hand, she also needed to stay a safe distance from the powerful battleship Michigan and a realistic distance from the Saratoga. If they were less than convincing the rebels might get wind of what they were up to, and then they really would be in the shit. Even now, the Michigan and her escorts were between the Coral Sea and her only escape route, the jump point back to Shariha. If the rebels rumbled them, they were stuck in-system with an awful lot of firepower arrayed against them, not to mention it would almost certainly mean the deaths of the fifteen-hundred marines on the Sara.

TCS Saratoga, 20:27

    All this weighed heavily on Big Mac as for about the twentieth time he re-checked his switchology, paticularly the master arm switch and the IFF transponder setting. Since they would be flying 'enemy' aircraft, they would have to be especially careful to avoid a 'blue-on-blue', a 'friendly fire' incident. That wasn't the reason for his nerves though; he'd been in combat often enough for that not to affect him much. No, it was the worry that his plan wasn't going to work, and that instead of saving lives it was going to get people killed.
    It wasn't a completely alien responsibility; every leader/wingman pair has the responsibility of protecting the other guy, and obviously you do your best to help others in combat anyway. Then as a squadron CO he'd had to plan missions where he knew people were going to get killed, obviously, but there's only so many ways you clan plan an alpha strike. But this... it was so insane, so ballsy, it was impossible to believe it would work. But that was probably the best thing it had going for it- who in their right minds would expect it?
    He tried to relax, taking calm measured breaths. Taking his left hand from the throttle he held it in front of his face. It was steady. His heart rate coming down, a smile started to form on his face.
    This might just work, he thought, it might just bloody work!
    "Thunderbolt, Strike. Bandits 175 by 345 for 150."
    "Thunderbolt copies. Turning to 175," Big Mac replied. He and Buffalo were having to use the Saratoga squadron's tactical callsign to maintain the illusion.
    The plan was to 'drive off' most of the Coral Sea attack, but to let some of the 'bombers' through, whose 'attack' would of course be innefective. The Coral Sea would then not have time to mount another 'strike' before the Saratoga was safely under the protection of Olympus station. Then things would get a bit hairy. As soon as the rebels on the station realised what was happeing (hopefully once the marines were safely inside the station taking control) Big Mac and the other pilots now on the Saratoga would have to defend her and the marines against any rebels who were crazy enough to try and give the station's defenders close air support. If their plan worked properly though, the marines should have little trouble. Colonel Mitterand estimated it would take about twelve minutes to board and secure the engineering section of the station, and have the entire station's main systems under their control within twenty. Even so, resistance would probably go on longer meaning that Big mac and the others would have to hold out until the Coral Sea closed up (with the station's defences safely out of action) and they could recover aboard either carrier.
    "Thunderbolt, Strike. Bandits 170 level for 120."
    About two minutes to intercept. Although theywouldn't actually be shooting at each other, there were several minutes of tricky flying in store for both flight groups. To make it look realistic to the rebels, the number of ships involved in the dogfight would have to diminish as if people were being shot down. They would be flying in reasonably close pairs, rather than breaking up into individuals as usually happens, and so that when the guy on your tail called 'splash', you would have to switch off your IFF and shields (your wingman would have to lose his shileds too) and tuck into ultra-close formation (ie, inside the normal shield envelope) with your wingman, so as to look like a single blip on the enemy screens. And stay there during combat manouevres, without shields, so any mistake would very likely mean that both ships were going to be severely damaged or destroyed.
    "Contact! Six, no, eight bandits. Clear to engage," Big Mac informed his flight. A few seconds behind, Lucy 'Hammerhead' Musgrave and Andy 'Hotdog' Kowalski also ordered their flights to engage. Hotdog had a couple of Excals as his flight, and Hammerhead had Arrows. The Coral Sea had sent Piranhas and Tigersharks, the Tigersharks having the role of "attacking" the already heavily damaged Saratoga.
    As they passed through the merge Big Mac glanced over his right shoulder to check that Buffalo was right with him, and pulled round to attack the the lead pair of Piranhas.
    "Alpha wing has the Piranhas in nose high left hand turn," Big Mac informed the others so that two of their flights did not engage the same group of enemies.
    "Copy. Bravo has the Tigersharks," Hotdog's Excaliburs would be a fairly even match; the very slight turn-rate advantage of the Tigershark wouldn't really matter.
    "Charlie has the other Piranhas," Piranhas against Arrows and Bearcats should also be a close match.
    Big Mac instinctively flinched as the pair of Piranhas sliced just over the cockpit as they passed head on, neither side having an advantage. If they carried on the flat turn the same thing would happen again. And it did, but instead of just bunting the stick forward slightly to avoid a collision like the first time, Big Mac kept his nose pointed right at the Piranha, forcing the pilot to pull up sharply to avoid a collision. Big Mac followed him into the vertical where the Bearcat was actually at a slight disadvantage. Not enough to allow the Piranha a kill on the first pass, though. Instead of following the trajectory round in a loop, Big Mac rolled off at the top, and pulled into the vertical again, rolling 180 degrees around his craft's longitudinal axis, he hauled back on the stick again, maintaining his turn until he was heading back toward where they had made the head on pass at the top of the loop but in the oposite direction than before. Just as he'd planned, the Piranha driver had blindly continued his loop, expecting to pick up even more of an advanyage on Big Mac this time around. His belly was to Big Mac, and so he didn't see Big Mac drop in behind him, at almost point blank range. His Imrecs locked it up, and the Piranha rocked his ship from side to acknowledge the kill.
    "Fox one! Guns, guns, guns! Splash a Piranha!" Big Mac exclaimed jubilantly. The second Piranha tucked right up to his leader and lit the 'burner. Although the fleeing Piranhas now gave him a perfect stern-aspect shot, he let them go. If he 'killed' the other one in the flight, the illusion would dissapear, as the now single blip on the screens of any enemy watching would have no way of hiding. So Big Mac and Buffalo rolled in on the Tigersharks, still fighting with the Excaliburs, although one of each had been 'killed'.
    "Fox one! Missile away!" Buffalo called.
    "Fox one!" Big Mac also informed the Tigershark jockey that he was well and truly 'dead'. On the other hand, so was the other Excalibur, sitting right in front of its guns. Since there was still one 'live' Tigershark in that group, both Excals and the two Tigersharks tucked up in very close formation and bugged out. The remaining Tigershark, complete with 'dead' wingman also decided that the strike had been driven off and decided to disengage.
    "Alpha lead, I need a hand here!" Hammerhead was in a bit of trouble. Her wingman 'dead' she too had lit the burner and tried to disengage, but the overzealous pair of Piranhas was still chasing her. She'd managed to turn the pursuit back toward the main part of the fight so that Big Mac's flight could give her assistance. As she shot past at 1400 kps, Big Mac and Buffalo dropped in behind, tucking up behind the trailing Piranha.
    "Fox two! Fox two!" Big Mac called, "Splash a Piranha!"
    Reluctantly the Piranha leader broke off his pursuit and headed back to the Coral Sea.
    "OK. Well done, people," Big Mac congratulated them, "now comes the hard part."

The vicinity of the TCS Coral Sea, 20:43

    Lt. Sarah 'Belladonna' Carlisle was about to recover on board the Coral Sea, after knocking out the destroyer escorting the battleship Michigan single-handedly. The Michigan had not been destroyed, but she was dead in space and heavily damaged. So heavily in fact that they had left her other escort, a cruiser, evacuating her. So, if things did go bad, at least they now had an escape route. There was very little else she could do for the operation; it was really in the hands of the marines. Even so, the Coral Sea was moving to maintain the illusion that they were the main strike. Since they would be very likely have to go through the escort carrier Essex which was moving to intercept them (though exactly what she intended to do with less than fifty aircraft [and not a bomber amongst them] was questionable) she might well have to fly an intercept or two.
    She knew she really should get some sleep when she got on board, but on the other hand, going up to ops and seeing what was happeing had a certain appeal. The Shrike made a smooth automated landing, and she taxied to the safing area where ordies scrambled over the plane putting safety pins back into weapons and the ejection system. Then she taxied to the hangar where other workers appeared with tie-down chains to secure the aircraft. She powered down, unstrapped and clambered out, her boots ringing on the cold hard deck. Removing her helmet she loosed her shoulder holster and g-suit ('speed jeans') so that she didn't have to walk in a slightly hunched position, and spent the next few moments stretching. Trudging wearily to the elevator, she decided on sleep.

TCS Saratoga, 21:08

    Big Mac was still sitting in the cockpit of the Bearcat, as were all the other pilots who'd been on the last hop. They'd done a 'hot' turn around, refueling (they still had a full load of weapons since none had been fired) whilst the ships were still running. Now they sat ready to launch at a moments notice. In about three minutes the Saratoga would be docking to the mooring arm of Olypus station, and a very large number of very mean-looking Confed marines would storm her engineering section. If and when fighters started swarming from the station like angry hornets protecting their nest, Big Mac and the others would be all that stood in their way. The marines were just boarding the LCs, and one of them looked accross at Big Mac. The leatherneck gave him the thumbs-up, and Big Mac saluted him. The marine turned and marched onto the landing craft.

Enigma jump-point, Ghorah Khar system. 21:09

    Captain Jack 'Jack-Knife' Johnson weaved his nimble Piranha between the large cap-ship mines. They weren't the problem. The difficult part was clearing up all the small anti-fighter mines first. He was pretty sure he'd cleared his sector, he was just double checking before moving to a safe distance to 'cook-off' the large cap-ship mines. Pulling out to a few km from the mines, he retarded the throttle and pointed his small fighter's guns at the target. Stationary, he blasted away at it until it detonated. The minefield had been well set, and the blast did not set off the chain reaction he had been fearing. He moved onto the next, and destroyed that in a few seconds too, and continued clearing the nearby mines. Moving to another firing position, he could see that the others in the squadron were also progressing well, judging by the large flashes that kept going off around him. They were working quickly, but it was a large minefield, and by now the rebels certainly new of their presence. Whether they could spare some fighters to intercept them with the Coral Sea's feint, though, was an entirely different matter.
    In under seven minutes he had his sector clear. His wingman, Lt. Robert 'Roughneck' Smith had also cleared his, and within ten minutes everyone else had also called in.
    "Strike, this is Jack-Knife. Enigma jump point is clear. Break, my wing, let's get the hell out of here."
    As they left the area, the jump point behind them opened up, disgorging a large fleet of ships.
    Another job well done, he thought, and started to relax. Then every muscle in his body went rigid again: All of a sudden there were fighters decloaking around him, a couple of flights of Dragons. They had probably been sitting there waiting for them to clear the jump point so that they could ambush the incoming ships.
    "Bandits, bandits! Engage!"
    The rebels had to be insane. A couple of flights of fighters, even Dragons, against, what, with the Leyte Gulf, Forrestal, Langley and the two marine assault ships, well over five hundred? That was an act of sheer insanity. Or desperation.

TCS Saratoga 21:19

    The Essex had already launched her entire complement of aircraft in a last ditch strike on the Coral Sea as Olympus station launched hers. They arced toward the Saratoga for a moment before blasting past at 500 kps. Big Mac let out a huge sigh of relief, hardly realising that he'd been holding his breath.
    Big Mac observed the gap between the Saratoga and Olympus station. It was only a few hundred metres from where the Sara was attached to the mooring point (where even now workers from Olympus station were checking umbilical connections) to the docking section of the engineering decks. But for the marines in the LCs, stuck in the troop compartment, it must be terrifying to cross that gap, stuck in the back of a slow, vulnerable landing craft and having absolutely no control over your own fate whatsoever. For a control freak like Big Mac (all fighter pilots are control freaks, it comes with the territory, as does their arrogance; if they admitted to themselves for one second that they were not in complete control of their destinies they would not be able to do their jobs) it would be virtually impossible to accept. But would you rather be the pilot? All those marines in the back putting their lives in your hands, wondering if perhaps their faith in you was misplaced...
    Big Mac did not envy the marines at all as he watched them leave the Saratoga's large landing bay. But he did respect them.

    The first landing craft snuggled up to the main engineering airlock as the pilot deftly brought the craft to a stop and turned it to the right orientation in one fliud movement, judging the speed perfectly. The universal docking clamp latched over the airlock to provide a tight seal. Two marines in full powered suits placed a thermite breaching frame charge against the outer airlock door, and it virtually vapourised as the thermite and explosives simultaneously burnt through it and blew it inwards. The force also buckled the innner airlock door, which also got the same treatment. A maintenance engineer unlucky enough to be standing near it when it detonated was killed instantly by being burnt, blown up and crushed at the same time as the white hot, twisted remnants of the airlock door smashed into him at several hundred kilometres per hour.
    The first squad of marines through the breached entry point were all wearing full powered armour suits, designed to protect them against both the blast and heat of the breaching charges (although 90% of that energy was directed inward away from them) and any ambush that may have been set for them. Each squad consisted of three 4-man fireteams, each with a support weapon, and a sergeant. For the armoured contingent, that support weapon was the 10mm railgun (mass driver), which accelerated a projectile to hypersonic velocites using a powerful electric field. Capable of taking out fortifications, light armoured vehicles and most other light-armoured targets, here it could be used for destroying barricades, doors, heavy machinery etc. The only poblem was that the weapon was so powerful it would go through several internal bulkeads or even breach the outer hull, so its applications in CQB (Close Quarter Battle) were limited.
    The remaining squads were kitted out with the standard anti-ballistic body armour. Their support weapons were simply more powerful versions of the standard particle rifle. Basically a small particle accelerator, it accelerated charged particles via a strong electromagnetic field to extremely high velocities. When these particles interact with matter they ionise it, heat it and dump their substantial kinetic energy into it. The more energy used the stronger the accelerating field strength and the higher the particle velocity. The higher the velocity of the particle burst, the larger the kinetic energy and consequently more damage to the target. Capable of penetrating personal armour, internal walls and doing terrible damage to organic targets, it could also be used on a much lower 'stun' setting, which basically gives the target a large electromagnetic shock/pulse with similar effects to a taser 'stun-gun' on a human, or an EMP attack on unshielded electronic equipment.
    The high efficiency rechargable batteries carried in a backpack/webbing rig would last as long as a similar weight of conventional ammunition would. The weapon's particle burst also ionised the air as it passed though it, giving a visible trail and also making a distinctive sound. Effective range depended on the medium being fired through (how much energy is lost as the burst ionised the air etc.) but at sea level in an Earth-type atmosphere was around 300-500 metres, or beyond the limits of reasonable firing accuracy of an assault weapon.
    Though the marines were thus well equipped for a firefight, virtually no resistance was encountered. All the landing craft had had a similarly easy entry; the defenders of Olympus station were taken completely by surprise and the few armed guards there were were rapidly subdued without a single marine casualty, and engineering was secured in under 5 minutes. While the prisoners (virtually all the unarmed workers had surrenderd peacefully and quickly when faced with a large number of well-armed marines) were taken to be secured, the combat engineers and electronic specialists went to work to take control of the entire station.
    However, a major snag was hit: A major refit had taken place since the blue-prints that Big Mac and Mitterand had poured over had been issued, and many of the primary system controls that had been duplicated in engineering were no longer there. The primary reactors were quickly taken off-line, along with the main communications array, however, auxilliary power still powered the weapons and a back up comms system. There was no way to shut that off without a difficult and dangerous journey though crawl spaces. Worse, there would be chemical and radiation contamination in the crawl spaces, and the only thing the marines had that would provide adequate protection were the suits of powered armour. The problem was, they were far too large to fit into the small crawl space. Even worse, though they now had access to the station's security cameras and systems (they too could only be shut down from the main ops centre, running off a seperate power system [for just such an eventuality]) which showed that the station's defenders were now getting organised and setting up ambushes at choke points. They had a bit of a problem...
    "Can you get me ze current blueprints out of ze computer?," Mitterand demanded.
    "Already done, sir."
    "Ok, show me ze C'n'C levels. Are zere any docking rings or airlocks up zere?"
    "Let's take a look," the corporal at the computer almost instantly found and highlighted four airlocks and a docking ring on the upermost deck, right beside the main control centre. However, the reason it had been discounted by Mitterand and Big Mac was easily spotted; laser turrets could track any ships trying to attack or dock there.
    "Hmm. We 'ave enough armoured marines for an assault. 'Ow do you fancy an EVA assault?"
    "Wouldn't the guns be able to pick us off easier than an LC?"
    "Zey are automatically linked to ze station's fire-control radar. Zey will not be able to track man-sized objects on ze station's hull. I 'ope!" Mitterand laid an armoured hand on the young corporal's shoulder, "I need to speak to Colonel McEwen. Can you get me ze frequency?"

    "Colonel McEwen, we are going to try an EVA asault. My marines will be ze proverbial sitting ducks on ze station's 'ull. You must not let ze enemy fighters near us."
    "There's a shitload more of them! I'll do my bloody best."
    "It is only what we all can do, non? I will do mine also."
    "Big Mac," his comms again crackled into life, "the strike group Olympus sent to the Coral Sea has turned around. As far as we can tell, they're coming back to attack the Saratoga and the marines. Can you intrecept?"
    "No problem," he said confidently. What he thought was, I'll bloody well have to, won't I?
    "OK. You're cleared for launch." Lighting the burner, Big Mac broke hard right toward the waypoint that had been inputted as he recieved the positional data on the incoming fighters. Glancing back over his shoulder he watched the string of fighters emerge from the Sara. The full twenty-four airworthy fighters had launched, but heading toward them were 100 enemy.
    "Big Mac, we're outnumbered four-to-one," the fact had obviously not escaped Buffalo, either.
    "S'okay. It's a target rich environment. Least, that's what the space combat 'experts' are gonna call it when they're writing the history of this little war,"
    "It ain't a war, Big Mac," Buffalo said sarcastically, "it's a police action,"
    "OK, everyone," Big Mac addressed the 'squadron', "let's set our IFF to squawk 8392. We don't want any accidents, especially since we'll be flying against identical types."
    "Oh, fuckin' A," groaned Hot Dog.
    "On the other hand, they've got four times the chance we have of hitting their own."
    "Oh, fuckin' A!"
    "Sarcastic bastards!" Big Mac laughed. Then instantly his scanner was filled with red blips.
    "Bandits! 12 low! Engage!"
    "Engaging!" Hammerhead's flight of Arrows rolled in behind Big Mac's Bearcats. Within seconds a huge dogfight of over a hundred aircraft was taking place.
    Big Mac latched on to an Excalibur. He easily worked his way into its rear quarter and gave it a long burst of full guns. The Excalibur's shields dissapeared under the hail of tachyon fire but Big Mac couldn't complete the kill, as he had to break away sharply with another Excal on his tail. He missed an oportunity for a snap shot at an Arrow crossing left to right becuase without the targetting box he couldn't tell whose it was; there was just too much clutter on the scanner to correlate blips to ships. He rolled in on a Hellcat and squeezed off an Imrec. The Hellcat took it full on the rear shields. After glancing in the mirror to check his six he put the pipper on the Hellcat's tailpipes for a perfect stern aspect no-deflection shot and peppered it with the four tachyon guns of the Bearcat. The Hellcat disintegrated. Big Mac instantly pulled up and away, selecting the closest target, a Thunderbolt. He was coming in way too fast and overshot. He barrel rolled left, chopping the throttle. The T-bolt had tried to track him, but failed miserably, ending up abreast of Big Mac's Bearcat. Big Mac broke into it, as the Thunderbolt simultaneously turned into him. It was at a massive disadvantage and Big Mac raked him from nose to tail. Tail. Big Mac's guns had not damaged the Thunderbolt itself, though he had demolished its shields, but he'd forgotten the tail gun. As Big Mac turned back into the Thunderbolt, forcing it out in front, he was pounded by the mass driver in the tail. He endured it long enough to set a couple of missiles off in its direction before breaking sharply away. As he got out of the tail turret's firing cone to watch the missiles streak toward the T-bolt he chanted to himself:

        "Don't give me an old Thunderbolt,
        It gave many a pilot a jolt.
        It looks like a jug,
        And it flys like a tug,
        Don't give me an old Thunderbolt.

    The T-bolt dumped decoys and turned as hard as it could but the pair of missiles smashed into it. Heavily damaged, it stubbornly refused to explode. Big Mac refused to use another missile on it but as he dropped in behind it to finish it off with guns the tail gun opened up again. With a loud metallic thump he lost a layer of armour from his nose.
    "Sod this for a game of soldiers," Big Mac swore fluently and loosed off a friend-or-foe. The T-bolt pilot decided enough was enough and ejected.
    Big Mac suddenly felt a huge thump in the back, snapping his head forward and causing the straps of his seat to cut into his shoulders.
    "Big Mac, break left!"
    Well thank you for the timely fucking warning, pal, he thought bitterly as he hauled the Beacat around visciously to the left. He silently apologised to whoever had given him the warning; he was in actual fact simply pissed at himself for getting target fixated on the Thunderbolt.
    A quick glance at the damage display showed it wasn't too serious: He'd lost his rear armour entirely, but the shield was already recharging. His afterburner was slightly damaged but being fixed, but other than that, he'd got away with it. For the time being. Looking over his shoulder he could see that it had been an Arrow, and it was still with him.
    "I could use a hand here, please!"
    "On my way, Boss," Buffalo came to his aid. He left his own target and tucked in behind Big Mac's pursuer in the classic 'daisy chain' effect.
    "Hold the little bastard still for a sec, Big Mac!"
    Big Mac eased up on his turn slightly, dumping decoys to spoof the Imrec the Arrow launched. its lasers hardly touched his shields.
    "Fox one! Fox one!" Buffalo didn't mess about; two Imrecs totally destroyed it.
    "Thanks Buffalo."
    "Don't mention it."
    "Srtike, Big Mac. Where's the Coral Sea fighters? We need help!"
    "The Coral Sea CAP is intercepting the attack made by the Essex, Big Mac, but the Leyte Gulf has sent fighters to assist."
    "They're on the other side of the fucking system! We need them here now!"
    "Sorry, Big Mac. The marines might be able to give you some Tigersharks. They're on the Saratoga."
    "Tell them to come and get any we miss. It's their buddies' asses on the line anyway."
    "Wilco. Good luck."
    Big Mac turned back into the fight. Locking up a Hellcat, he immediately fired a missile at it, following up with a burst of full guns. The missile took out its rear shields but his guns burst smashed into the front, due to the steep deflection of the shot. It broke hard into him, and due to the offset turning circles broke the lock. Big Mac turned back into it, locking him up again. Not wanting to waste a missile on the already damaged craft, he lit the 'burner to close up the gap. He could easily stay behind the Hellcat, and a quick burst with little or no deflection would finish it off. Suddenly the missle warning sounded. He dropped decoys and started to execute a break, but the missile kept tracking. It was a heat seeker, and although Big Mac cut the afterburner to try and tighten his turn it was too late: The damaged afterburner had created a massive infra-red signal that the missile couln't miss and it smashed into his already damaged aft-section. The eject warning came on, redlights came on across the board and his reactor was rapidly redlining. Time to go.
    "Mayday, mayday, mayday! I'm ejecting!" Big Mac straightened his body, took his feet of the pedals and made sure his spine was in the correct position before reaching above his head for the primary ejection handles. In the newer fighters there were blast curtains and a sealed lifepod encompassing the entire cockpit section that would be blasted from the stricken fighter, making ejection a safer business. In the event of a cabin pressure leak it would seal up too, meaning that missions could be flown in comfortable flightsuits rather than pressure suits, but in the Bearcat (essentailly a war-era fighter) there were none of those luxuries. Big Mac checked his helmet seal was airtight and pulled the handles. His seat was blasted from the fighter which an acceleration force several times that of a catapult launch or Wasp booster rocket. Under the 'g', Big Mac passed out.

Olympus Station, 21:39

    Mitterand paused for a moment. The equivalent of about a company of marines, all in full powered battle armour, was now climbing like spiders (clumsy ones) up the outer hull of Olympus station. It wasn't too difficult, due to the fact that ladder rungs and handholds had been built into the station to facilitate external repairs. They didn't so much 'climb' the ladders as float along them, propelling themselves forwards. You could build up a fair bit of speed (no friction) but you had to be carefull. If the guy in front stopped for some reason (there'd be a good reason) you had to stop too, rather than crash into him. Plus, if you missed a grab or pushed yourself up too far at the same time as along, you'd float away into space. They didn't use safety tethers becasue stopping to clip and unclip yourself all the time took too damn long, and if you had to move fast, you couldn't if you had a high-tensile steel wire holding you in place. So the key was, slow and steady. As he looked back over his shoulder, he could see that everyone seemed to be managing easily enough, so he resumed his progress.
    Up ahead was an airlock. There was also a porthole, and so instead of following the ladder line (which went straight past it) Mitterand decided to traverse and bypass it. This was more tricky. There were no convenient handholds here, so he unclipped a section of cable from his webbing rig. setting the clamps gently onto the metallic surface of the station, he switched the powerful magnet of each one to 'on', but not until they were already in solid contact with the hull. If they were switched on first, they made a loud 'clang' to anyone inside close enough to hear. The people following behind could now use this cable as a hand-hold.
    Distance wise, they were about half way there, but it was now much easier . The angle of the hull now changed to a vey shallow curve, almost a flat surface, and he could make out the control section, a slight bulge in the centre of the huge circular plain. As well as the laser turrets. keeping low to the surface, he started to propel himself toward their objective.
    Although not to produce a feel of gravity as some of the earliest stations had done (it had its own artificial field, just like all Confed ships and stations, but everything in the universe naturally rotates, and a spin gives an object stability, just like a bullet), Olympus station rotated. Not very fast, but enough to make you sick if you watched the stars for too long. With no 'up' or 'down' out here, being on a rotating object didn't help, since your body didn't have many senses to go on. And vomiting inside a helmet is not a hot idea.
    The other thing was that it now took effort to 'climb' toward the control area at the centre of the disk. Centripetal acceleration was now pushing him out toward the edge of the station. He had weight. Not much, but enough for him to have to hold on to the ladder all the time, and over come a weight, not just the inertia of his mass.
    About two-thirds of the way to the control area, he waited for the rest of the marines to form up. Holding onto each other, they would now move up in groups, not single file. Extra care had now to be taken because a fire-team of four armoured marines floating up might well be a large enough object for the station's fire control radars to track and shoot at. Although their armoured suits were protection against small arms fire, including lasers and particle beams, the turrets mounted on the station would cut through their armour with ease. It took about another ten minutes, but eventually everything was ready to go. More breaching charges had been brought up, but they would be used on the inner airlock doors. If they were used on the outer doors, every door from there in would have to be blown, and any unsuited personnel inside would be killed.
    The same corporal that had gained access to the computer systems in engineering was now working on the doors. He had to override the sensors so that no alarms would go off inside and so that the lock would not cycle when they entered. The five entry points must be simultaneous to achieve surprise. However, only one fire team could fit into each of the smaller airlocks. The main assualt would be through the main docking ring. Even this though, would not admit the entire marine force. The remaining marines would assault the two decks below as well. Hopefully everything would go according to plan and the defenders would be overwhelmed swiftly, thinking the main assault would have to come from the engineering decks.
    Having got into the main docking ring and got the outer door closed, the inner door would have to be opened. It was too large to use a normal breaching charge, so explosives would have to be set manually. When it blew, the marines would 'clear' the area (actually the VIP waiting lounge) by shooting at anything that moved (and most things that didn't) and continuing the assault's momentum to subsequent rooms, finishing at the main control area. Since this was an EAP (emergency assault plan) it did not have anything like the prescision and planning (or safety) of a DAP (deliberate assault plan) and so would mostly have to be improvised.
    Everything was in place, all the other assualt teams had given their 'in position' signal, and the longer they waited, the more likely it was that the rebels would catch on.
    "GO! GO! GO!" All hell broke loose as planned. The Command & Control section was rocked by several virtually simultaneous detonations, and the sound of particle weapons. Despite the prohibition on major infrastructure damage the 'krak' of railguns and 'boom' of grenades could be heard, felt even.
    "Fire in the hole!" Mitterand himself threw a frag around a corner to clear a room. Despite their impressive armour, it was still easier and safer to fling a grenade round a blind angle than storm in and take a round in the face.
    The force of the attack was stunning, but at choke points the enemy soon set up ambushes and defended obstacles. It wasn't going to be the walk-over that the engineering assault had been. The rebels were also well armed, having the same equipment and weaponry that Mitterand's marines had. At maximum setting their particle rifles would penetrate the marines' armour, and a 10mm mass driver would go clean through almost without realising it.
    Colonel Mitterand himself was pinned down in one blistering firefight centred on a narrow corridor than seemed to be the only way in to the main contol rooms. The first three marines down it had all been killed; the rebels had set up a railgun facing straight down the corridor. One shot had gone through all three. The marines had managed to kill the gunner using grenades, bouncing them down the corridor without actually stepping into the line of fire, but another one had taken his place. Particle rifles also covered the choke point, and the occasional burst richocetted off the far wall.
    "Merde!" Mitterand quickly whipped his head back as a burst richochetted off the doorframe next to him.
    "Cover me!" A sergeant shouted. He had a flechette gun, a high tech shotgun, and had it in one hand with his rifle in the other. Mitterand looked at him and nodded. Mitterand and the man on the far side of the corridor simultaneously held their particle rifles round the door frame and held down the triggers. The sergeant jumped into plain view, spraying high energy particles and high velocity projectiles down the corridor. He was hit by a particle rifle, thorowing him back accross the room, but the rebel firing stopped. The sergeant miraculously picked himself up and gave Mitterand the thumbs-up. Screaming like a madman, Miterand himself led the charge down the corridor, firing long bursts from his weapon as he did so. The rebels manning the mass driver (it was a two man job without a powered armour suit) had been torn apart under the hail of fire. Whilst his men gave him cover, colonel Mitterand readied a couple of grenades and flung them into the main control room before ducking back behind the bulkhead. Dust and shrapnel were flung past him, and he stepped back into the doorway, rifle ready to gun down anything still moving, but the room was clear. Absolutely gutted, in fact. Blood, shrapnel and energy burns covered the walls and ceiling, and the main computer was a crackling, sparking mess.
    Olympus was theirs. It was over.

    Big Mac came around, strapped tightly to his seat. Unfastening the arm restraints with the thumb catches, he checked that his SARBE (Search And Rescue Beacon) was activated on his first survival radio, and pulled out the second. Miraculously, given their failure rate, it also seemed to be working, because he was recieving his own distress beacon on it. Switching off his distress beacon momentarilly (since it broadcast on the same frequency as the voice transmission, Guard - the emergency channel) he pressed the transmit button.
    "This is Big Mac. Does anyone read me?"
    "Hullo there, good buddy," came the almost instant reply, "ya got Roadblock on the air. What's yer twenty?"
    "About 200 from Olympus in the direction of the Coral Sea. The seat's nav/pos system crashed on ejection."
    "OK, Big Mac. Switch your beacon back on for 15 seconds and we'll triangulate the signal. We'll have you home in no time."
    "Copy," Big Mac switched the beacon on, counting the seconds. Then he switched the radio back to recieve.
    "We gotcha, buddy. ETA 12 minutes."
    "I owe you a beer, Roadblock."
    "You owe me a damn crate! Okay, let's get you home."

TCS Coral Sea, .355, 11:33

    It took four days to clear the check the station over for resistance and booby traps. Although there was very little resistance and few booby traps, the marines did it in a thorough, professional manner, and not one more marine was injured in the process. It was estimated it would take another three weeks for the marines aboard Nassau and Iwo Jima to dig out the rebels and their families down on the planet. Big Mac didn't know how long it would take the shitstorm in the media to blow over, as he watched the holovids of news (two days old) from Earth that had just come in.
    The Kilrathi were making a lot of noise about reparations, payments to the families of those killed, and the handing over of several of the 'War Criminals'. They weren't really in much of a position to demand anything, but in the interests of good relations (what the whole of the Coral Sea's involvement had been about) they would probably get something, probably larger aid payments.
    On top of that, Three admirals, two generals, one senator and a planetary governor had all 'resigned'. At least two of them would be facing long jail terms. How high up did it go? How many people had turned a blind eye to strange requesition forms, or psychological evaluations?
    He winced (as he had done about three times an hour for the last three days) as he tried to pick something up, forgetting about his whiplash. Not from the ejection, but from one of the missiles striking the Bearcat. He also had bruises and a stiff back from the ejection, but overall he'd felt worse after a night in the bar. He did have a problem though. What now? While the other Pilots from the Coral Sea and Leyte Gulf flew CAP and a few close-support missions for the marines on the planet, he was stuck here. With his confirmation as CAG and promotion to Lt. Colonel. It just sat there. Big Mac had read it twice, start to finish, and put it down.
    "So, whaddya gonna do, Big Mac?" Belladonna asked as she strode into his private room.
    "Don't you ever knock?" Big Mac growled.
    "Erm, sometimes. I didn't think you'd mind. So, have you made a decision?"
    "Yeah. Yeah I have. I've worked out that by joining the active reserves I'll actually accumulate more flying hours than as CAG. Plus, I'm thinking of writing my memoirs. I think my life would make a great book. Or maybe some fiction instead. Flying novels about the War are popular."
    "You've really decided to leave the service?"
    "Well, it's not really leaving, is it? I mean, with the threat from the Bugs, I could be recalled to active service at any time. I'm just not going to be spending half my life stuck on a carrier in the middle of nowhere. I'll be dirtside. My family still has land back in Oz, so I might see if I can get my share of the land. With all the tightening of security because of the bugs, especially around Sol, I should be able to get a posting in-system."
    "Oz? I've never been to Australia. Come to think of it, I've never been to anywhere on Earth."
    "No, of course, I forgot. You come from Junction, in Gemini, don't you?"
    "The junction system, yes. The planet is called Providence."
    "That's where that three-mile waterfall is, isn't it? I'd love to see that," Big Mac said wistfully.
    "Yeah, but you've lived on Earth. I mean, Terra..!"
    "It's not that special. We haven't got three-mile high waterfalls, or thousand-foot trees or lava oceans or anything..."
    "That's not the point. Earth is... special. It's hard to explain to someone who grew up there and takes it for granted."
    "Come back with me," Big Mac suggested.
    "Are you serious?" Belladonna was incredulous, "I mean, uh... are you joking? Is this some sort of chat up line?"
    "Deadly serious. And sleeping with me isn't essential to the deal, but I wouldn't say no."
    "Look, Big Mac, it's very nice of you to include me in your retirement plan, and you do have a cute butt..."
    "It's just that I want to keep flying fighters. With the glowing reports you keep writing me I should get promoted in no-time. You've had your fun, your glory. I want mine."
    "OK. Look," he explained, "we'll all be getting leave in a few weeks anyhow. This air wing will rotate home whilst another takes our place. Then when we've gone sightseeing all over Earth, you can go back to being a fighter pilot for at least another six-month cruise. After that- who knows?"
    "I... I'll have to think about it."
    "Soooo," Big Mac tried again, "what are you doing tommorow night?"