DISCLAIMER: None what so ever. This is an original work. So all of it is mine, mine, mine!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a Science-Fiction story, but before you assume (since I write Star Trek Voyager fiction mostly) no, this story is not Star Trek based. In fact, it's based on no movie/series or the likes. The only thing this is based on is my imagination. Did others have the same idea before me, I don't know. All I can say is that I wrote this while not even thinking of other established entities like Star Trek, or Star Wars, or Babylon 5, or name your favorite show. And last but not least: My undying gratitude goes to Jo for betaing this work of fiction. Since Word is so nice to put red lines under misspelled words, her work is made extra hard because my spelling mistakes are not literally mistakes as such, but more words used in the wrong place (saw Vs. was) and other pesky things like punctuation. So, a double dose of thanks goes to her for her very appreciated work.
SETTING: Centuries in the future. But I tried to keep sci-tech 'realistic.' Meaning, yes, they have faster than light flight, yes they have laser weapons, no they don't beam down to a planet, no they don't have holographic people running around.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Written for Epic Proportions 2009.

The Danmun Alliance
By H.W.


Chapter 1

We didn't start this war, we inherited it. For more than four hundred years the war has been passed on from generation to generation. For four hundred years every child in the Union of Free Planets learned to hate the enemy with a passion.

We, the Union of Free Planets exist out of Earth and fourteen other Home planets in other solar systems located throughout the Union. And of course all planets that fall inside that territory and which we colonized or claimed as well.

The first two hundred years of the war were the worst and the most brutal. Both sides have stood only moments from total surrender. At one point we managed to push the enemy, who we call 'Turtles', all the way back to their own solar system. But there has also been a time when the Turtles have succeeded in closing in on the Union until they were all the way to the outer planets of Earth's solar system.

After the first two hundred years the war cooled down slightly. Until ten months ago the war mainly focused on a virtual line in space where several smaller uninhabited solar systems can be found, and that ends on both sides with a bigger solar system. There are fifteen planets in the system on the left end of the line, and seventeen in the system on the right end. This proverbial line in space has been the border between what we consider space that we control and space that they control.

The rest of the Union was luckily left pretty much alone. But the war on this frontline, and especially for those two big solar systems, was bloody enough to make up for that. Every year about one million Union soldiers died in battles. We have no idea how many Turtles we got rid off, but we hope the number is a lot bigger.

Then one day ten months ago the Turtles stopped their attacks on us. Of course, the most obvious reaction on our part was to push the advantage and finally take control over those two solar systems. The problem is that we don't trust the sudden withdrawal. There was no major battle; nothing that would make them lose troops and therefore pull back the rest of the troops on the frontline. So why did they just simply pull back? Some of us generals have a feeling that it's nothing more than a trap. That they're just waiting for us to push forward so that they can come in and take us out. This has led to an uncomfortable silence in which both sides still fly recon missions, but don't attack recon missions from the other side. We don't know why they stopped, but we do know that we didn't push into their territory. We aren't that stupid. We have no intention of moving into such an obvious trap. However, we haven't seen a single Turtle at all in the last month... and we don't trust that.

The general slowly turned away from the window that gave him a clear view of the most beautiful gas cloud in the territory that the Union called its own. For a moment he hesitated, fighting the urge to use the scanner telescope. He still had a job to do. Something that was more important than looking out of a window. Besides, he knew every detail of what he would see anyway. Amongst other things he would see, almost unrecognizable because they were so far away, a few of Earth's constellations, only slightly distorted since he would be looking at them from a different angle than Humans had for millennia.

Whenever he was in this part of space he always ordered the ship to take this route. He couldn't get enough of the view. In one corner the gas cloud he named his son after, and the other corner the planet he named his daughter after. And then, somewhere out there, so far away that it was impossible to see with the Human eye and anything less than a scanner telescope, was the solar system with that unique blue planet he called home, but which he hadn't seen in many years. Of course, he, being a general, knew only too well that it wasn't tactically a smart move to always take the same route; it would give the enemy a chance to plan an attack on him. But he felt that the risk was ignorable because to plan an attack the enemy first would have to know on which ship he was, just when he would be traveling... Besides, there hadn't been an enemy Fighter in this part of space in the last one hundred years.

The general took his time to look at the captain seated on the other side of the desk. He didn't understand it. 'How can a person be so much like everyone, and yet be so unique?' He wondered. We have at least one of her kind in each squadron. Someone who has lost so many friends and family in the war that they want nothing else but revenge. Usually people like her die within their first five missions because they can't keep a cool head and they let themselves be driven by hate. But not her. She is unique. She volunteers for each mission, the more dangerous, the better. She attacks ten enemy Fighters by herself and comes out on top. She flies through a minefield at top speed and doesn't even break a sweat. And yet... She has flown almost five hundred missions. Her Fighter has been damaged seriously seventy-nine times, and yet she's only had to bail out of six Fighters. She is one ice cold bitch.'

The general looked down on his screen when a message came in with military coding. 'Long live the technology. This coding system is absolutely perfect. I can see and hear the message, and she can only see snow and doesn't hear a word. I still don't know how they do it, but I find it a true feat of technology that everyone in the Union has his or her own code, and that messages like this can only be understood by the one for who the message is meant.'

After the message was finished, the general looked back to the captain and asked, "What do we really know about our enemy?"

Captain Jane A. Darnell was a blue eyed blonde with curly short hair that looked like it could never be tamed. But because they were natural curls the untamed look only added to Jane's beauty. She also had facial features with a slightly narrow chin that gave her a strikingly beautiful elfish look. She would be considered beautiful by almost all species in the Union. The rest of her body only enhanced that picture. She had a slim figure but also well defined muscles. A pair of 34C breasts enhanced her curves and filled out normal clothing enough to be seen, but were still small enough to fit comfortably in a standard uniform; just the way she liked it. Being thirty-four years old, she was considered at the prime age for being a Fighter pilot. Old enough to have left hotheaded temperament behind her, but still young enough to have good reflexes.

She was one of those pilots whose name arrived before she herself did. With a height of 1.65 meter she was actually a few centimeters shorter than average for women these days, but she always radiated a clear presence. Despite her size there was nobody who ever dared bother her. Ever since she started at the academy, and later as pilot, she made a name for herself. That name was enough. Even the rough male Fighter pilots who thought that they were tougher than steel stayed well away from Jane, because they knew that she was only too happy to prove that she had the knowledge and muscles to break their jaw, and any other bones in their bodies that she wanted to break.

But Jane really wasn't the battleaxe everyone thought her to be. Normally she was a friendly, polite, and thoughtful person. Jane simply knew that the name she had as a cold hard bitch made sure that she never had to prove herself against hopeless wannabes. So she kept up her name for her own convenience, which was pretty easy. She knew she could look very intimidating if she wanted to. How to look at someone in just the right way, or smile in just the right way. So she did, more was hardly ever needed anymore.

Jane thought that the question was meant for her and was about to answer when the general spoke up again.

"I'll tell you what we know about the enemy. We know that the battle between them and us has reached a stalemate because of two things; our weapons and their shields. We have incredibly powerful weapons, our shielding systems aren't that great. On the other hand, they have incredibly strong shielding systems, but only average weapon systems. It's their shielding system that got them the nickname 'Turtles'. They're just like the Turtles back on Earth. When they're inside their armor you need a lot of power to hurt them."

He shook his head a little. "They have force fields that we can only dream of, but they have such relatively light weapons that our shields can usually take more than one hit without it being a problem. We managed to salvage some of their damaged Fighters. While we couldn't repair them, it was enough to see that they use materials that we don't have anywhere in the Union. We assume that they have the same problem as us, and that this is the very reason why they can't duplicate our weapons."

The general paused before shifting tracks a little. "As for the enemy themselves... there are two ways of thinking about them. The first is that they're just like we've seen them several times already. A green/brown Humanoid body, covered by small armor plates not bigger than a centimeter, three centimeters at most in some places. They have the general body form of a Human, but the skin type of a snake; are naked like a snake as well. All in all they look quite hideous. No eyes, no mouth. We don't know how the hell they eat, communicate, or reproduce because we also can't see any balls on the damn things."

He paused for a moment to see how the captain would react to the coarse words. When he saw no reaction he kicked himself mentally. Of course, she had spent enough time in the Army to have long passed the sissy stage. She probably said things a lot worse than that on an hourly basis.

He continued. "The second way of thinking is that they truly are a lot like the Turtles we nicknamed them after. That what we see is nothing more than a protective shell and that underneath it you find soft flesh; in other words, a normal Humanoid that's wearing some kind of armor system. The first approach has the most supporters because calculations suggest that the strength they've shown on several occasions is too great for a normal Humanoid body."

Jane frowned at that, she had always objected to this overly simplistic way of thinking. She knew numerous animals that were actually more than two times as strong as a Human. So what was there to say that an alien that evolved on a different planet wasn't naturally stronger than a Human? The fact that the other species in Union space were on average just as strong as, or weaker than, a Human didn't mean that there couldn't exist aliens that were a lot stronger. Jane had stopped years ago arguing that point, knowing that people preferred to demonize the enemy to being ugly 'things', rather than intelligent beings. Jane had never made that mistake. Assuming that the enemy wasn't stupid had let her survive many a battle.

While Jane was thinking this, the general continued with his speech. "In our battles we've discovered that the only way to make sure if a Turtle is dead is by shooting at the body again and again until it doesn't move anymore, or of course use a weapon that blows them to bits. A normal being would never be able to withstand that much damage to the body before the body's destroyed. All of that ensures us of the fact that they're not really Humanoids, but the end result of insect evolution; bugs. Bugs that are damn hard to kill."

He sighed. "Unfortunately we've never been able to investigate this in detail because they never leave a body or a prisoner behind. If they have to, they attack with a whole army to recover a single dead body. We assume that this has something to do with their belief system."

Jane was wondering why the general was telling her this. Even the youngest Union child knew all of this.

'So,' The general thought, 'she has the information, now for the mission. Just as well that we have crazy people like her, otherwise I would never find someone for this mission.'

The general was about to continue his conversation when another message came in for him, this time in the civilian coding.

The civilian coding was the predecessor of the army coding. The only difference between the two was that with the civilian coding there was a recognition level of about one in five million. This meant that one person in five million would be able to see the coded message, even if it wasn't meant for them. Of course, because messages were sent to specific people, someone else must have first deliberately intercepted the message if they wanted to read it as well. And on top of that be one of the one in five million people that could actually see the message just like the person it was actually meant for. For the civilians this small chance was acceptable since it was still almost impossible that someone could accidentally understand the message. But for the army this small chance was unacceptable. That's why the decision was made to use the two types of coding in such a manner.

When the general saw that the message was not important he pushed the button that put the message in memory for later reading. "Right, as I was saying, we haven't seen a Turtle in a month. We figure that this could mean two things. First, that they've completely retreated from the no-man's-land and that they expect us to do the same. Or, they've pulled back in preparation for an all out assault. We expect it to be the last."

He gave a small humorless smile. "But we have a problem. What to do? If they have indeed retreated because they want to let this war cool down and we do a reconnaissance-in-force to check it out, the Turtles could see that as an attack from our side and decide to start attacking us; which would mean that the war would start all over again. Another option would be to only send a small recon mission. But if they don't come back we wouldn't know if the Fighter is shot down, or if the pilot flew against one of the millions of mines out there. We would still know nothing."

He drummed his fingers on the desk for a moment as if thinking of what to say next. "To make the option of sending in a small recon team work, we'll have to put some of our best pilots in those cockpits. The problem with that is, as you probably know, that almost everyone that joins the Army Aerospace Corps Combat Forces signs up to be a Fighter pilot and as a result there are only a few trained Recon pilots. There really isn't much we can do about that fact because we need those Fighter pilots to replace the war casualties. It's a hard fact of this war that they rarely last long enough to reach the rank where they get the specialized training Recon pilots get, like the S.E.R.E. course for instance."

Yes, Jane knew that only too well. She knew that the Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape, course was only given from rank lieutenant up because so many pilots lost their life long before ever reaching that rank. The army had stopped centuries ago giving the course to people that only went out and got themselves killed. Only when they survived long enough to become a lieutenant did the army consider it proven that the pilot might actually be worth the time and effort to give them specialized training.

"Having worked with more than enough Fighter pilots," The general continued, "I know that most of them don't know anything else but flying and shooting at things. If they were to come into a situation of being interrogated, they would spill all they know within five minutes. But you're different than most, Darnell, even without the fact that you've done the S.E.R.E. course. Therefore our choice has fallen on you. You're easily more than qualified enough. You're an excellent pilot, and you hate the enemy so much that you would rather die than give them the satisfaction of having broken you. During the interrogation test, you were one of a very small handful that didn't break."

Now the small smile looked more genuine. "You wouldn't even tell the 'enemy' what the energy source of our Fighters is, which they are bound to know. You only have problems with one thing, and that's that you have disobeyed orders on more than one occasion. So here are my very plain and simple orders for you, Captain. We want you to fly through the no-man's-land to enemy territory. Do a deep Recon mission as far and as good as you can, and get back with all the information you managed to gather."

Jane nodded her head in understanding. She had flown similar missions before, just not as direct as this. She knew that she would get no further orders. It basically came down to the fact that she had to fly into enemy territory and come back alive. While in enemy territory she had to try and gather as much information as possible. It didn't really matter what kind of information; everything was important. But it would be greatly appreciated if she were to happen to find out something about the subjects the general had just spoken about.

"Anything else, sir?" Jane asked to indicate that she had understood the order she was given.

"No, you'll be leaving tomorrow morning, let's say around eight."

"Normal time or Union time?" Jane asked.

The general looked at Jane with a blank expression on his face for a moment before remembering that Jane was not part of his standard staff. His staff was used to him using the normal Earth time, which was pretty much used by everyone in the Union. Because it was easy to learn by every race in the Union, Earth time had become the unofficial, but most used time measurement form. But there was a chance that Jane had never been to Earth and had grown up on one of the few starbases that truly stuck to Union time.

"When was the last time you were on Earth?" The general asked, hoping that Jane had experienced the sensation at least once.

Jane noticed that for the first time since the beginning of the meeting the military tone had left the general's voice. "When I was fourteen," Jane answered. "So twenty years ago. In that time I've learned to appreciate the Union time just as much as Earth time. I'm afraid that I really don't know what eight o'clock you mean."

"Also born there?" The general asked without showing he noticed Jane's hint for a precise time.

Jane was not stupid enough to be disrespectful to a general without a good reason. So she decided not to show that she had absolutely no interest in a conversation, certainly not with a general. "Yes, I was born there and lived there until I was fourteen. At that age I enlisted voluntarily. The reasons as to why must be in my file."

The army prided itself on the fact that despite the fact that the war had been going on for so long now, the draft was never instated. But a downside of that was that every man, woman, and child that wanted to join was needed in the army. Officially one could only enlist from the age of twenty, but over time the release forms that enabled younger people to enlist were so common that a stack of them was found in every enlistment office. It was certainly not uncommon for children as young as twelve to enlist.

But it wasn't only young ones that joined the army. The fact that the army needed everyone they could get had also resulted in even hardened criminals being welcome in the army.

To make sure that everyone had the same fair first chance in the army, a standing general pardon had been arranged over a hundred years earlier. A soldier only started to 'live' when he or she joined the army. The past of the person was never investigated. The person could easily join under a false name; nobody would ever find out. As long as a person came through the physical, which really did nothing more than test to see if the person had any contagious or deadly diseases, and if the mental capabilities were at least good enough to do the most basic army jobs, the person could join the army.

The general hated this law. More often than not he didn't even know the date of birth of the people who worked for him. But he was glad that Jane at least had known the experience of real gravity and real fresh air. And certainly that Jane had known this for fourteen years; lived for fourteen years on the planet which was called the most beautiful planet of the Union.

The general decided to have a look at Jane's file. "You decided to give a reason for joining. Let's see. It says here that after the death of your parents, your two brothers, and more than enough other family members, it was finally the death of your sister that was the final straw for you. You didn't want to watch any longer, you wanted to act. Why the high number of casualties in your family?"

Since this was the zillionth time someone looked at her file, Jane gave the answer she had given so often before. "I come from a true Fighter family. We live and lived only for defeating the enemy. For more than three-hundred-fifty years there has been a Darnell at the front lines."

"But one of your brothers was younger than you. Why did he join before you?"

"Because I used to be an idealist. I used to have the idea that this war could be ended with nothing more than a good talk."

"And what happened to change that idea?"

"My sister used to think just like me. She tried, with authorization, to contact the enemy."

"And?" The general asked, knowing that the information had to be classified and therefore not even available to him.

Jane was silent for a moment before finally answering. "On moon V three of planet C eight, of the no-man's-land, they found the burned remains of her unarmed Fighter."

She was quiet again for a few seconds before adding softly, "And they found her remains as well, reduced to nothing more than ashes."

"Ah, right," The general said, not really sure whether or not to give his condolences. "Well, I was talking about normal Earth time. That was all. Dismissed, Captain."

While Jane was leaving the room the general thought once again about the old times. 'Those idiots called bureaucrats with their ideas. Because Earth had such a huge influence on the Union, the Union is now using the Earth metric system for measurements. They even use the Earth calendar as the standard. But just to be interesting, they had to go and use the old army times literally. Go and divide the day into literally twenty-four-hundred hours. Who will ever see the logic in that?'

Jane stood where her Fighter had stood the last time she had seen it. She made a slow turn, her arms open in a 'what the hell' gesture.

"That damn thing is twenty meters long, it can't just disappear," Jane said to herself before she saw one of the hanger staff walking by and called out to her. "Hey, you're just the person I'm looking for."

"I wish," The woman said after looking Jane up and down with a seductive smile. "But I guess you only need some information."

"That's correct," Jane agreed, deciding to ignore the lingering gaze that kept moving to different parts of her body instead her face. "Do you happen to know where my Fighter is? My name is Jane Darnell."

The woman slowly came closer until she was almost standing against Jane and asked in a seductive voice, "And what would it be worth to you if I knew where to find your Fighter?"

"What it's worth to me?" Jane asked disbelievingly. "I don't have time for games. Just tell me where my damn Fighter is. In case you forgot, let me remind you, you 'are' talking to a superior officer."

The woman put her arms around Jane's neck and purred seductively, "Aww, surely you have a few hours of time."

The woman's voice became even more seductive, something Jane had not thought possible. "I promise you won't be sorry."

When Jane took hold of the woman's arms to remove them from around her neck, the woman had a feeling that she was about to lose her chance, so she decided to explain herself. "You see, I'm far, far from my home planet and I have to stay here for another six months. Since I'm a Dalenian I really need a partner really soon or I'm in deep trouble. And you're just my type my little blue eyed blonde babe."

"I am?" Jane asked, suddenly not that interested anymore in removing the woman's arms.

"Well, since I can't do much more with a man than shake hands right now without getting pregnant, and since I definitely don't want that, and since there isn't another Dalenian female on this base... yes you're just my type."

It was a well known fact in the Union that on Dalee Prime it was always the women who choose the partner; the men had nothing to say in the matter. All they could do was hope they were lucky enough to be chosen by a female. There were no family structures that included grown women. The women would bare the children and give them to the men to raise. After that the women would leave men and child. It was the man's task to bring up the children, the women had nothing to do with that.

The Dalenian men got something back for what seemed to be a one sided deal though. Over the years the rumor had spread through the Union; once with a Dalenian and you would dream about it for the rest of your life. Rumor had it that the sex was more than just the act. The Dalenians somehow were able to make love to your mind as well, making it the best experience you ever had.

Jane knew that it was rare for a Dalenian to choose someone outside her own race. They only did so if the urge to mate became too much to bear. The Dalenian women had to mate at least once every six months or their hormonal changes would literally drive them insane. Therefore Jane didn't mind at all that she was only the first choice, after other options weren't possible.

"Well, I guess I could leave a little later," Jane said while thinking, 'No way am I going to let this opportunity pass me by.'

Jane knew that she wouldn't get into trouble for leaving later than ordered. Over the duration of the war, many sub rules had formed. Rules that weren't official, but that were still kept so that the continued life of being in the army in an active war didn't drive people insane... more than it already did that was. One of those sub rules was the difference between someone telling you your mission started at a certain time, and someone telling you that a mission started at an exact time. When the general had told her about her mission he had said 'let's say around eight'. That meant that she could still leave at twelve and not be in trouble. But if the general would have told her something like, 'you will leave at exactly 8:02' she would already have been in deep trouble if she had been two minutes later than that.

Jane changed her grip on the woman's arms to a loose hold. "To leave I need my Fighter, so what do I have to do for you to tell me where I'll find it?"

The woman give Jane a broad smile and took hold of her uniform, "Great! You come with me, beautiful. I live just down the personnel corridor."

The woman started to pull Jane with her as she added, "You know us Hanger people, before we do anything else we always start with a thorough... body-check."

"What about leaving your post?" Jane asked as she let herself be pulled along. It might not matter if she left a little later, but leaving a post unattended was a whole different matter.

"I clocked out just before you called out to me. I was just heading home anyway. Come on, babe; time 'se wasting."

The woman, whose name Jane didn't even know, had held Jane 'hostage' for three hours before giving Jane a last, and very heated, thank-you kiss and finally telling her where the Fighter was. As Jane was walking to the hangar she was whistling a happy tune while thinking, 'Damn, those stories are oh so true. What a way to leave on a mission.' Jane stopped whistling when she saw the warnings that were written with bold red letters on the door.


Mortal danger

Suspension hanger

Force fields in use

Enter at own risk

Stay inside the yellow lines at all time

In a strange way, Jane thought it kind of funny. Over the passing of time the army had so focused on sonic and laser weapons that they had made the landing gear weaker and weaker. Since the landing gear didn't need to carry all the weight of heavy bombs, they had made it smaller and less sturdy in order to use that space for a bigger plasma tank.

It had worked perfectly. Since then the Fighters had become faster and had a longer flight time. But if one was unlucky enough to have to land on a planet one better say a quick prayer and hope that the landing gear wouldn't collapse during the landing.

Jane opened the door and had a clear view of her Fighter. Because her Fighter was placed in a suspension hanger, Jane already knew up front that she would be flying with 'heavy weapons' as it was generally called. She just didn't know that it would be so damn much. She couldn't remember ever seeing so many weapons on her Fighter.

"What do you have for me?" Jane asked the mechanic who was working on her Fighter. The mechanic didn't answer right away since he was still doing something. Jane suspected as much and didn't ask again. She would get her answer soon enough, and she would much rather that the mechanic that was working on her Fighter, kept concentrating fully on preparing the Fighter properly.

Since she had to wait for the mechanic, Jane walked around her Fighter; being of course smart enough to stay out of the clearly marked force field area. She knew only too well that she would be reduced to nothing more than a bloody mess if she came within a force field area without the special suits the mechanics wore to be able to work on the Fighters.

Like every pilot, Jane was normally only interested in the cockpit, hardly ever paying any attention to the things outside the cockpit... as long as those things kept working. One didn't look at a Fighter; one used it. But now, while looking at the Fighter, the words of her old teacher at the academy came back to her.

We always speak about the three hearts of a Fighter. These are the three things you should keep an eye on at all time. The first is the air generator. This is located right behind the pilot and therefore between the pilot and the plasma tank. As the name suggests, in the air generator the air is generated for not only the pilot, but also the air for the air thrusters.

This is done by a chemical reaction that converts plasma energy into air. The air thrusters are used to steer the Fighter and to brake. They don't need the force of the main engine and therefore the calculated surplus of the air generator is more than enough for all the fancy flight work possible.

At the front of the Fighter there are eight movable air exhausts where the produced air can escape into space, and thereby steer the Fighter. These exhausts are called thrusters because they look just like the thrusters used in the time when we still used regular fossil fuel to steer the old Fighters.

Because their air exhaust can be turned in a three-hundred-eighty degree circle, the Fighter is extremely maneuverable; so much so that the maneuverability of a Fighter is decided by the limitations of the pilot, and not the Fighter itself. The hardest thing for pilots to master is the braking. In order to brake the two main engines of the Fighters are put in idle, and the thrusters are aimed forward, activating them more and more. But if this is done too quickly the G forces on the body become too much for the pilot and the pilot can pass out.

To prevent this from happening the braking is normally done computer aided and Fighters are normally guided into the hangers automatically. But a pilot nevertheless needs to know how to slow the Fighter down in an emergency, or in case the computers malfunction. To make sure that the pilots know how to handle situations like that, we practice the braking regularly. Something the pilots affectionately call 'mountain parking' because sometimes it feels as if you are flying against a mountain at full force.

The second heart of the Fighter really doesn't need much monitoring, but it's a wise idea to keep an eye on it nevertheless. Right underneath the plasma tank there is the antimatter container. This is safely possible because energy plasma and antimatter don't react with each other if they were to come into contact because of a crash.

It's the antimatter that gets mixed with air from the air generator that provides the reaction of antimatter fusing into matter, which results in huge thrust which powers the two main motors. Since we started using antimatter in our Fighters we're able to reach speeds of up to one light-year an hour. With normal usage there's enough antimatter in the Fighter for six hundred flight hours. Because of this we don't need containers that can be refilled. At the normal five hundred hour maintenance check of the Fighter, the container is simply fully replaced.

The third heart is the plasma tank. The energy plasma provides all the energy the Fighter needs. The plasma is really the thing that can best be compared with the old fossil fuel. But it isn't totally the same. One doesn't truly use the energy plasma; one uses the energy produced by the plasma. One of the main priorities of a pilot is to keep the energy level in check. Energy plasma has the strange but convenient tendency to recharge itself. Energy that is used by the Fighter is replaced because the plasma recharges even while in use.

In normal flight a Fighter uses less energy than the plasma can recharge, so theoretically a Fighter can be flown for six hundred hours straight until the antimatter is used up. But, if one uses the thrusters too much in maneuvering, the air generator uses so much energy that there's more energy used than there is recharged. So if one is careless it can happen that one uses all the energy in a fight and suddenly can't do nothing more than drift until the energy plasma had time to recharge. Of course, that's something an enemy will never wait for; sitting ducks are easy to kill. Be careful, it's theoretically possible to drain the energy from the plasma in fifteen minutes of fancy flying.

When Jane had walked around the Fighter she slowly shook her head. 'On the outside these things haven't changed in years. Now, seeing it with heavy weapons, it looks just like the Fighters I saw in the space museum.'

Jane quickly looked at the mechanic and saw that he was still working, so her thoughts started to drift once more. The conversation with the general the day before had reminded her of things Jane would rather not think of, like the death of her sister.

Her death had been a total turnaround for Jane. Before her sister was killed, Jane had been the pacifist of the family. Not a week had gone by without an argument in the family between her and someone else. One day she had gone so far and said that the Union must have started the war. It had been the wrong thing to say in a room full of patriotic family members and her family had thrown her out of the house. It had been her sister who had made it possible for her to come back home. She had always shared Jane's ideas but she had done things differently. People knew how Jane's sister thought about the war, but she never bothered anyone with her views. Her sister only gave her opinion if people asked her.

Then came the day that the message arrived at home; saying that they found her Fighter and her burned remains. That was the day that Jane realized that the enemy were heartless killers who deserved to die. They had destroyed the unarmed Fighter of her sister. That was the day that Jane swore revenge for her sister's death. Since then Jane had shot down more than 1,600 enemy Fighters, and a big part of those had also been destroyed. As far as Jane was concerned, it was only a beginning.

But despite that there was still a big part in her of the person she once was. She attacked, if she got the chance, every enemy Fighter she saw. But as soon as the enemy Fighter was out of commission, she just let it drift in space. She didn't go in and make sure to destroy the Fighter like some of the young hotheads did. This for two reasons. First of all, concentrating on a Fighter that couldn't harm you anymore was a stupid thing to do; you better concentrate on the one still shooting at you. Second, over the years something of a 'gentlemen's agreement' had formed between the more experienced fighters of both sides. If the Fighter hadn't been destroyed in the attack and therefore the pilot was probably still alive, you left it that way. That was the chance you gave them: maybe they would be rescued, or they would die because their damaged fighter couldn't keep them alive anymore.

She had explained this to several young fighters, but it took time for them to realize. They just saw an enemy that needed killing, but the smart pilots also saw the next time. When it was you that was drifting in space and when an enemy who once was allowed to live decides that you too deserve to live.

It was somewhat for the same reason that she had disobeyed orders on more than one occasion if those orders said she had to attack some unknown base in some unknown corner of the no-man's-land. If Jane had a suspicion that there were too many civilian targets in the area, she wouldn't attack. Jane had never said it out loud but deep down she had a way of thinking that made her make those decisions. 'If people need to die in a war, the army people should be the cannon fodder, not the civilians.'

Jane knew only too well that it were her abilities as pilot that had saved her from charges of treason and charges that normally came along with that. Pilots were needed, good pilots were valued more than their Fighters... there had once been a time where that was standard, but in the last few decades a Fighter was worth more than just another moron that wanted to get himself killed. But a pilot of Jane's abilities; they were valued so much that they could get away with things that would land others in prison, or worse, simply by saying 'sorry'.

"You were supposed to be here more than four hours ago," The mechanic suddenly said, startling Jane. "Since you didn't show up, I took the liberty to give your Fighter a good once over."

"Right," Jane said, trying to shake the memory of her sister. "Sorry about being late; I was... in a meeting."

"I didn't receive a report about you having a meeting and possibly being late," The mechanic noted as he walked out of the force field and came to stand beside Jane, taking off his protective mask while doing so.

"Well," Jane said before admitting, "Let's just say that a pretty Dalenian made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

The mechanic's eyes got wide. "Kandia finally found someone? The rest of the hanger crew won't be happy. They were running after her like crazy; and I'm not just talking about the unmarried ones."

"But not you, of course," Jane noted.

The mechanic laughed. "No, not me for real. I'm very happily married... to a woman that sees right away if I'm lying. I'd much rather share my fantasies with her and we have some fun with that instead of risking my marriage."

"Well," Jane said as she pointed at her Fighter. "I got places to go, so what do you have for me?"

"For starters, you have to give me your firearm in a moment. You'll be getting a level six laser instead of the normal level four."

Then the mechanic turned a little to look at the Fighter as well. "Also, the standard laser and sonic weapons on your Fighter have been replaced with the most powerful versions we could fit in it. Beside those you'll also have solar-wind rockets, napalm and H-bombs."

Jane looked at the mechanic with disbelief clearly on her face.

Solar-wind rockets were normally the heaviest weapons one got on a mission. Solar-wind rockets were extreme long range and heavy rockets. They were normally fired and after that they used solar panels to propel them beyond the range of any other known weapon. But Jane was more surprised about the napalm and hydrogen bombs. Those names didn't represent the weapons they represented in the past. They were new weapons that got those old names because the effect was pretty much the same as with the old weapons.

The thing known as napalm was really a microwave weapon. It was a transmitter with an active range of maximum ten kilometers, but the active range could be set as low as ten meters. The transmitter activated as soon as it hit the ground, or any other large object, and basically cooked every living thing within its set range.

The H-bombs were still atomic bombs based on the splitting of atoms. But they were so much more destructive than anything ever known. The interesting thing about those bombs was that with them too the pilot could decide how active they were. Enough to 'merely' destroy one city, or enough to destroy things the size of a large continent.

Over the years the creators of those weapons had tried several times to have people use the newer names for the weapons. But old habits died hard and the engineers had kept using the old names, which meant that the pilots had kept using them as well. Napalm and H-bombs were normally only used in mass attacks on land or space bases. Definitely not something that was normally strapped to a Fighter just in case.

"Do they think I'm going to take on the entire enemy fleet?" Jane asked while shaking her head.

"Not just their fleet," The mechanic corrected. "I haven't even told you the best thing."

"Which is?"

"The treasure chest."

"What the hell is that?"

"That," The mechanic said while pointing to a boxlike device hanging under the Fighter. It was about half as big as Jane herself and a little narrower.

"We call it the treasure chest because it's full of beautiful chains... chain reactions that is."

Jane still didn't understand, and the irritated look on her face clearly told the mechanic this. "Alright, alright. It's our latest weapon, straight out of the dungeons of the Applied Solutions Industries Labs. It's a new kind of atomic bomb, you could say. It can totally destroy a small to medium sized planet. A big planet won't be totally destroyed, but it'll never recover fully from its effect."

"You got to be shitting me."

"Nope... wish I was though." Until now the mechanic had been smiling or grinning, but now he looked gravely serious. "Honestly, it scares the crap out of me. I lie in bed at night and wonder. If we're capable of thinking this up, just what will the enemy think up to one-up this? Shields that cover entire planets? Shield walls in the middle of space?"

"How does it work?" Jane asked, and in afterthought added, "And what is considered a small to medium sized planet?"

"On impact it starts a chain reaction that changes a few atoms until they are a totally different substance than they were before. This chain reaction then spreads and continues changing more and more atoms. Everything is turned into a useless heap of substance. Earth, water, plants, animals, people, all of it becomes part of this substance; down to the very core of the planet. There is no explosion or anything like that. Things just... start to change and melt into each other."

"That's impossible," Jane said right away. "Physics,"

"Physics is guess work for the most part," The mechanic interrupted. "When the first atom bomb was tested on Earth, the first planet of any of the species in the Union to manage making 'the' bomb, a lot of scientists... established scientists... said that it would start a chain reaction that would destroy the entire planet. They were wrong. But now it seems that if you give scientists enough time they find a way to prove theory right. Apparently it all has to do with the substance used in the bomb."

The mechanic snorted before adding, "Luckily it only has a 'limited' range at the moment, since it's still new and hasn't gone through generations of refinement. Because of this big planets aren't fully 'turned,' as they call it. Of course, since such a big part of the planet is unusable the rest also looses its ability to support life eventually."

Jane had to swallow against her dry throat when she realized the full potential of the newest Union weapon. "I ask again, what is considered a small to medium sized planet?"

"Well, from your looks I would say that you're Human, right?" The mechanic who clearly wasn't a Human asked.

"Right," Jane agreed.

"Your home planet, Earth?"


"Not a problem."

"They are nuts to even invent something like this."

"Well, personally I agree with you, but that's not for me to decide. I'm just here to strap the thing to your Fighter."

He held out a hand. "Your sidearm please."

Jane handed over her laser and watched how the mechanic put it in a weapon's locker before giving her the weapon he had taken out. The mark six laser was the same size as the mark four, but twice as powerful. And also about ten times as expensive. So the mark six was only handed out on a limited basis. Once Jane had put her new weapon in her holster, the mechanic spoke up again.

"I know I don't have to tell you this, but protocol mandates that I do, so here goes. None of these weapons are allowed to fall into enemy hands. If you have to land for some reason, you are first to jettison the weapons and activate their self-destruct. Did you understand what I just told you?"

Jane nodded her head to indicate that she had indeed understood the words that were told to her on every mission she had ever flown.

The mechanic came closer and said softly, "If you truly have to land in enemy territory, you might want to chance it and land with the weapons. Since you won't be landing in a hangar without force fields during this trip, I took the liberty to fine-tune the settings on your landing gear to a planetary landing. So there's a chance the gear will actually hold for one or two landings. It is however not a chance but a fact that you won't survive your mission if you have to get rid of your weapons for some reason."

"And just how do you know so much about my mission?" Jane asked.

"You don't really think that they would let just any mechanic check your Fighter for this mission, do you? Or hang the treasure chest to your Fighter for that matter?" The mechanic asked with a smile.

"I see," Jane understood that the man had to be from the Union Secret Agency; the most non-secret of the Union's secret organizations.

"Delta six is the last base before entering no-man's-land. You'll have a stopover there. There will be a suspension hangar waiting for you on the base."

"Delta six? That sounds like one of the old models," Jane said surprised.

"It 'is' one of the old models," The mechanic said while shrugging his shoulders. When the man continued talking, a clear disapproving tone had entered his voice. "It was either recycling or move it to the no-man's-land, so it became the no-man's-land. That way they still had a fine and new starbase left for somewhere else in the Union. That now fifty thousand people have to cope with old material didn't matter to anyone in charge."

In Jane's mind the mechanic was totally right, but she had no desire to start a conversation about the faults of the Union. Besides, she had something else to do. She simply nodded her agreement before ascending the ladder that would bring her to the walkway which was secured against force fields and made it possible for Jane to get into her Fighter.

Only a few minutes later Jane was flying through space. She entered the coordinates of the starbase into the computer while a small voice deep down in her subconscious was saying, 'If they really think that I'm going to destroy a planet, they have another think coming.'

Part 2

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