Sharoma Frontierverse Why Did The Groigan Dance? Chapter 9

Why Did The Groigan Dance?

Chapter 9

Kick the Tires

There is nothing even remotely comparable to the silent tranquillity that descends upon a ship in the minutes before launching. The scarce moments when all the planning has been done, all the safety checks completed, and the objective was just out of sight- those were the moments that all pilots longed for; not the orgasmic thrill of combat or the giddy euphoria of victory, but those few seconds of pure, heavenly peace.

At least that was how Bush felt; taking a look over at the shivering form of a man huddled into the navigator's seat of the Minos, he thought he might have to revise that theory, because Squire Ulysses Sinclair wasn't enjoying himself at all. "How you doing over there, son?" Bush asked, the corners of his mouth twisting upwards in a smile.

"I...I'm fine, my lord Baron," Sinclair somehow managed to squeak out. "I'm just a little nervous is all."

Bush laughed. "We'll make an officer out of you yet, Sinclair. Every cadet out of Jameson gets a bit shaken before their first raid, no need to be embarrassed." Yeah, and pigs flew Panthers. Bush had a feeling that the young cadet wouldn't be quite so innocent as he thought he was back at Capitol, and the snide remarks would suffer a dramatic decrease after this mission as well. Grinning at the prospect, Bush leaned over and gave the Squire a good-natured slap on the shoulder.

To Sinclair's credit, he was able to let out a tortured "Erp!" before graciously recycling his lunch on the Minos's floor.

Bush grimaced (that was quality satin) but then he heard a faint click over his head, and had a brief moment to give Sinclair another grin before the sprinkler over the navigator's chair activated, drenching the Squire.

The ship laughed, the sound coming as a burst of static, and when Sinclair turned to snarl at the Baron he found Bush wiping tears from his eyes.

"Lesson number one, Squire; the Minos's AI chip makes ship as smart or smarter than the both of us, and he likes being puked on even less than you do. Now hurry and wash up, we launch in less than five minutes." He kept his eyes on Sinclair as the cadet got up and made for the lavatory.

The speakers crackled to life again. "Still sure about making an officer out of him, mac?"

"Come Hell or high water, ship. How much longer until deployment?"

"Four minutes forty seven point nine seconds, mac."

"That long? I never judge time accurately while sitting around waiting for some action," the Baron remarked. He raised a half-finished glass of Sohoan Red at the viewscreen. :To the coming storm, ship. My Lady Luck smile upon this ship."

"And our lasers smile upon many hulls," the Minos said, completing the traditional prebattle exchange.

The mission was going completely to plan thusfar, and the group was sitting inside the Lynx Bulk Carrier just outside the orbit of "Henhouse," the designated name for the planet upon which Fortress Anderson ("Mother Hen") sat. In -what did ship say? four and a half?- minutes from now, the iron ass was going to throw open its cargo bay doors and loose Scalpel on the unsuspecting planet, then immediately hyperspace to Cegreeth and wait for the Sixth Wing to jump into the system for reboarding. Bush was surprised no one had looked out the window of a passing ship yet and seen the massive Lynx- the ship's registration identification had been changed to that of a Panther's (both ships showed up as a white blip on a scanner), but not even the superb Imperial scientists had been able to come up with a shape-shifting technology yet.

The ship registration had been replaced with one from another ship its size for each fighter in the Sixth; it had only been a problem with the two larger ships in the group, the Imp Courier and Count Redfield's Destroyer. How any serious assassin could pilot either of those slow iron asses was beyond Bush, but they managed to do it (and do it well), so the Baron didn't complain.

There was plenty of complaining earlier when Bush had the Squire pass around a hat and have each officer put their dogtags and wallets inside. The invitation to the group had said that the operations and members of the group would be top secret, but few had any idea how secret; along with the dogtags and wallets, all Imperial records of the soldiers were erased, theoretically making each member of the group a man that didn't exist. Any man who was able to return would be immediately restored, but it was still mildly alarming to know that if you died out here that you were officially never born. At least the Elite Federation still had their own, private records.

And Bush had no doubt that at least one man was going to die in the dark skies above "Henhouse" tonight; the law of averages virtually guaranteed it. Conservative predictions placed the amount of fire exchanged in the battle tonight to be upwards of ten thousand shots, and even trained to perfection as his men were, one or more would buy the farm under Bush's first command. They would be facing heavy resistance in the forms of automatic defense systems and military-trained pilots in well maintained ships.

But why think of that before the hatches were even opened? Swirling his drink a little, Bush snapped back to the present. Sinclair was back in the navigator's chair, still looking non-plussed.

"Ship, run a status check on all life forms in the cargo bay." It couldn't hurt to know how each man reacted to pressure.

Three odd beeps came from the speakers, followed by quiet as the Minos contacted each ship and got readings of the heartrate, bloodpressure, and a myriad of other things about the pilot in each. "Other than the new blood sitting next to you, mac, all parameters are in the green for everybody."

Sinclair glared at the viewscreen.

"Something in your eye, mac?" the Minos inquired in a polite voice.

Bush had to smirk again. "Quit picking on the boy, ship, he just hasn't tasted any blood yet. Once he has he'll be the cheeriest person this side of the Neo Circus Maximus!" Bush told the ship. "How much time left until launch now?"

"Well, mac, you should lift off right abou-" The ship's voice was cut off by the deep rumbling of the cargo bay doors groaning open. The outline of "Henhouse" appeared inch by inch as the bay doors lifted, outlined by the rich light of a newly setting sun.

"All right boys, time to earn your paychecks," Bush breathed, and began to gradually learn on the thrusters - as commander, he was the first one out and the last one in. "Warming up the big guns, ship?"

"You better believe it, mac."

The Minos began inching its way out of the Lynx Bulk Carrier, each foot bringing the Empire closer to the brink of war.

Continue the story with Chapter 10