|Cassandra's Tears - Issue 1|
|Source||Cassandra's Tears - Issue 1|
|In the series|
AO: CENTAURI SYSTEMS
Four weeks… four long weeks since Cal Mason rescued the kidnapped Xi’An diplomat and he was just getting cleared from Medical. He had that itch, that itch that came from being grounded too long. Pilots always got it. Almost like they didn’t trust their limbs to carry them, they needed to move through this universe with wings and thrusters, not arms and legs.
Cal’s ribs still stung from that blast he took back on Vega but he didn’t care. He had to get out of there. Cal made his way back to his quarters, nursing his side. The last shift of patrols just landed. They passed him on their way for a debriefing.
“Hey there, Mason. They finally let you out?” Cal turned. Penny looked tired but chipper as always. If there was something in this universe that could bring her mood down, Cal hadn’t seen it.
“Not officially. How is it out there, kiddo?”
“Danger at every turn. You know how it is.” She said with a wink. “Have you checked in with Grandpa yet?”
“Heading there now.”
Penny jogged to catch up with the rest of her wing. She loosened the band to unleash her flame-red hair and turned.
“Oh Cal,” she said backing up, “stop calling me kiddo.”
Admiral Showalter was not in a good mood. Like Penny, if there was something in this universe that could put Showalter in a good mood, Cal hadn’t seen it. The admiral, nicknamed Grandpa by those with a death wish, was a lifelong soldier. Survivor of multiple ground campaigns, hundreds of sorties, and more-than-likely dozens of covert ops, he had his career etched into his very features. His narrow eyes took in everything but never gave up anything.
“You shouldn’t be out of Medical.” He grumbled as he looked over the doctor’s report on his screen. “Besides, you aren’t going to be anywhere near a ship until your review. Western Command is all over me for that stunt you pulled.”
“Sorry, sir.” Cal could barely stifle a grin. Afterburning after a smuggler ship through the bustling city of Titus at rush hour was liable to ruffle some feathers. It was a hell of a chase though.
“Don’t sorry me, kid. You did good out there. I’m not going to let them scapegoat you to curry political favors.”
“Thanks but don’t put yourself in any hot water because of me.”
“Shut up, Mason. You think I got to where I am without being able to sidestep some political pitfalls?” That’s why all of Showalter’s troops would eat a bullet for the man. Showalter shut down his screen and looked at Mason. “But I’m still not putting you back on the rotation.”
“And I’ll hit an injured man. Now get out of here.”
Cal decided not to test him. He was going to get back in the sky though. Just had to figure out how. Turns out he wouldn’t have to wait long.
A distress call had gone out the second the Vanduul raiding party hit the system. Feet thundered across the grates. Engines ignited. The carrier’s massive bay doors rolled back.
Penny strapped into her seat as her NavComputers booted. She looked across the bay. There was Cal, passing in front of her ship. He grinned and saluted.
Admiral Showalter was on the bridge when Mason took off. He knew instantly, he could recognize that little takeoff flourish anywhere. He thumbed the Comms.
“Dammit Mason. You get that bird back on the deck. I’m only going to tell you once.”
“Sorry, sir, Nav’s already locked in. Will try to-“ Cal muted the channel. He settled into his seat. That thrill of the impending storm rose inside him. This was home to him. He knew it the first time he strapped in and every time since.
Penny burned up to him. She glared at him for a few seconds. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Lending a hand.”
“The Admiral told me to blast you out of the sky.”
“I’ll be good. Promise.” Penny stared at him for a few moments. Finally she shook her head.
“Fine. Cover our six and don’t do anything stupid.”
“Come on, Penny, you know me.”
Cal fell back into formation. The wing stretched sixteen ships wide; ten Cestus dogfighters, three Zippers, and two Anvils. Should be enough to handle whatever the Vanduul got cooking.
On the Gemini’s bridge, Showalter watched the blips of the raiding party cruise through the system on the mapsphere. They disappeared into the planet Yar’s atmo. That gave him pause.
Why there? He thought. There were much more densely populated planets in the system. The Vanduul hadn’t been afraid of a Fleet presence in the past. If they’re here to smash and grab, why hit a desolate planet on the rim with only a handful of settlements and research stations?
“Admiral. New contact. Bearing eight-seven-zero.” Whitacre, their SIG-INT specialist, bounced the new radar blip onto the sphere. Showalter took one look and knew immediately.
It was a Vanduul flagship. Heading to intercept them.
“Well, well, I guess someone’s come to play.” He gave the order for the Gemini to ready itself for war.
TO BE CONTINUED. . .