Chapter 7 : The story of the last deep space fighter

“I was the weapons officer on the Vortis. At the time there were only two of us on that ship, just Captain Recker, and me. Our mission, originally, was simple, to test the new A-beams they‘d installed, and we weren’t even supposed to be leaving orbit from P36. Well, we had a few days of firing tests, and then our commander, Halsted, told us that an American fleet was heading this way, and he suspected it was hostile. We were neutral, of course, and I don’t understand - perhaps you can explain it to me - why we were seen as a threat. He said there was some signals intelligence suggesting that they might destroy our fleet to prevent it falling into the hands of the Chinese. Well, we only had four ships at P36 and three of them were on the ground. Halsted told us to decide our own heading but get well away from the action - staying in range of direct signals - and wait for his orders. He decided that the Vortis on its own had no chance in combat, but if it survived, might give him some leverage with the Americans. So, we headed away from the approaching American ships, and in time we received a few broadcast transmissions - first that the three sister ships had been destroyed on the ground, then, that headquarters was under attack. I guessed that their transmitter was out because that was the last we heard.

We waited out here, in deep space, for going on 200 days, with no idea what had happened to our families, our homes, in fact the whole colony. Our relatives were all civilians, but we didn’t know what the scale of the attack might be, what sort of collateral damage might result. We were sick with worry about that. We tried to reason it out, Recker and me, what should we do, but we couldn’t settle on the right course of action, and decided that we had our orders, and we would follow them. If necessary, we were going to die on that ship. I was resigned to it. Then the sensors picked up nine fighters that had jumped to within a few light seconds of our position. How they found us, I don’t know, maybe they were just lucky. Anyway we hadn’t seen them coming, and we weren’t even battle-ready when they hit us. It was a precision strike - they took out the engine core but we didn‘t lose atmosphere. How they could do that from such a range, I have no idea. They sent us one, brief radio transmission - Captain Conway of the USS Snake River ordered us to abandon ship. He said he would destroy the Vortis in 30 minutes. That was it, our war was over as soon as it had started. But at least they gave us a chance to escape. I thought that was good sign, for everyone at home, that they put a value on our lives. They could certainly have finished us off right there. We had the two pods on board and Recker was having trouble with his, it needed to be recharged and he told me it would only be a few seconds. He ordered me to get in my pod and launch it. Well, it was getting tight to Conway’s deadline, and I wished Recker good luck. After I was inside, I saw him go over to the comms station and I knew then what was he was doing. He’d given up on the capsule and was going to ask Conway for more time. I wanted to go back and stay with Recker, but my pod was on a programmed sequence by then. A few minutes later there was a flash and some debris came by. Recker must have been in there when it blew. I don’t remember much more, I must have gone under soon after that. When I came round I was expecting to meet Conway, and tell him what I thought of him.

Well, it’s all changed now. I expect Conway’s dead, it‘s too late to bring him to justice. I wonder if my sister is still alive ? We were born on P36, our parents were first generation colonists there. My dad, he was a medical doctor, he rose to become Assistant Director at the health institute. He worked on some of the medical conditions that were peculiar to the colony - something to do with heavy metals in the environment and some other toxins. He believed there were genetic modifications that we needed, to be able to survive and be healthy there over generations. My sister Annabel and I, we have some of those I was told, some modifications. They were introduced just after we were, you know, conceived. But we grew up as normal kids. My dad wanted me to follow him into medicine, but my heart was never in it. We had a school visit to the shipyards when I was twelve years old, and from that day, I knew what I wanted to do. Maybe I wasn’t smart enough to be like dad anyway. Maybe if I was smarter, we might have found a way to protect the Vortis, maybe we could have done something to defend the colony ?

So much time has passed now, they probably don’t remember us - Recker, Halsted, me, the crews of the other fighters. I hope there is a memorial to Recker somewhere, but I wonder if our people want to remember such a total defeat as we suffered then. Is it better for them to forget ?”

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