Life & Death in Outer Space
by Floyd Looney
The suit was so heavy and bulky that Lydia couldn't hope to move much. The grounds crew used a crane to lift her and the other pilots into their fighter ships. The Predator-class fighter ships would accompany a swarm of drone fighters to overwhelm the enemy forces. Life, death.
“The enemy comes through a portal from another universe or another part of this one. We know they aren't from this galaxy.” The Admiral said. After fighting the aliens for a decade, all of the humans alive knew about this already. Every human on every colony was affected by this nightmare. So many had suffered and died already. Life, death.
“We have pinpointed the gateway.” The Admiral told the assembled fighters aboard the conference room of the Determination carrier. The Determination was the core ship of the flotilla, Regatta One.
Regatta One had a single purpose: destroy the gateway.
Lydia did fine in training and in the simulations, but she had never faced actual combat. This was to be her first combat deployment. If they succeeded, this could be the last one for any of them. The aliens had killed her father in the first engagement of this war, and now she might close the book. Life, death.
Lydia had argued with the Air Boss. He had not wanted to send her. “Keeping you in reserve.” was his excuse. That was not the real reason, they both knew it. Marcus Russell had fallen in love with her, despite not being able to admit it. Over the past six months Lydia had developed similar feelings for him.
Still, he wasn't going to keep her locked away for safety.
“I'm a pilot.” She had told him, “This is the reason I'm here.”
That last part might have come across wrong. She wondered if he had heard it as “You're not the reason I'm here.”
Marcus had relented, but looked wounded. She would have to make up for that. Lydia had not led him on but she had never given him reason to doubt her before. Months ago he had confessed, in some empty compartment where no-one could hear.
“I know we are in no position for allowing our feelings to get in the way.” He had said, she had remained stone-faced through his whole gut-wrenching admission. “I know we can't openly admit it right now. Just tell me off or something if you don't have these feelings.”
Lydia didn't say anything. That had allowed Marcus to retain his hopes. The idea that this war might soon be over gave her butterflies. The idea of fighting was less stressful than allowing Marcus to think she had changed her mind. Life, death.
“Shark Squadron.” She heard his voice over the com. “You will launch after Manta Squadron. Form up in quadrant four.”
This was all programmed into the ship computers.
“Shark Three.” Lydia heard his voice on the ship-to-ship frequency. “Make sure you come back.”
“Definitely.” She responded.
Her ship was pulled by the robotic mule toward one of the launch chutes. These were actually large airlocks that lined the wall of the carrier deck. Manta Squadron and their black spaded emblem were already being positioned inside the chutes.
Lydia checked over everything again. The life-support system of the ship, check, the life support system of the suit, check, the engines, weapons, navigation system and the whole list was nominal. Life and death. One coin with two sides.
“Check in.” She heard Shark Leader say. Shark Two announced “Shark Two, ready.”
“Shark Three, ready.” she followed and the others came after.
“Is this the meaning of life?” Some student had asked at the Academy. “We spend all our effort at building life support systems inside death machines. Something dies so that we live. Plants and animals die, so that we might live. If we didn't have aliens, we'd kill each other. So, is this the purpose of life?”
Lydia had wondered the same thing, but only on a background level. Suddenly it seemed to be a very immediate kind of thing to think about. Manta Squadron had launched and the inner doors of the chutes were opening, she was being pulled inside by the robot mule. Things outside got dark when the inner hatch closed, of course her sensors and HUD worked properly, she knew where all of the ships were. She wasn't dead or lost in some void.
“Launch in 3.....2....”
The outer hatch opened and she was thrown into space as if the Determination had sneezed her out. Outside she saw the rest of Shark squadron had been similarly ejected.
“Okay, fall in on me.” Shark Leader said. Lydia turned the control sticks and the whole flight turned in unison and joined up in formation with their leader. They followed him to the holding area where they would wait for the other squadrons to join them before the mission could get under way.
The Predator-class fighter ships were big but even at a kilometer from the Determination it dwarfed the fighters. The other ships of Regatta One had spread out for this operation, but she imagined them pouring out the unmanned drone fighters that made up the first wave of any attack.
Somewhere on the desolate planet below there was a gateway to somewhere else. Aliens had come from there and sought to eradicate our kind. We need to find it and destroy it, although we don't know what it looks like or how big it is. Somehow we will know it when we see it.
“We have been detected.” A voice announced, “Took long enough.”
From the surface of the world below came readings of a multitude of small launchings. Missiles. It seemed a bit outdated to launch a missile from the surface, a waste of energy if no other reason. The weapons on the Determination would take out most of these missiles without much problem.
“Launching drone fleets now.” The voice kept the fighter pilots informed but without much detail it only made them more worried. At least that is the effect it had on Lydia. They could not see the inbound missiles, they could not see the energy weapons on the vessels of Regatta One firing to destroy the missiles. Except on their monitors.
“I feel like a spectator.” Shark Five said over the Squadron com.
“More like a couch potato watching from home.” Some else corrected him.
“We could just nuke it from orbit.” She heard Shark Six say. Six was the only other female in the squad of eight.
“That would take the fun out of it.” Two answered. “I think they want to know more about the gateway before it gets destroyed. At least to make sure it is really here.”
Of course it's there. This planet was half the size of the home world but it was showing a gravity well as deep as any gas giant you could name. It had to be caused by the gateway, nothing else made sense.
The first wave of incoming missiles hadn't got near them. The outbound drones screamed toward the planet along with the Shaker missiles launched from Regatta One. These missiles would impact the surface and cause quakes to damage underground military facilities. Lydia had seem aerial footage of the shockwaves these things caused, it was scary to see.
Of course Lydia was high above it and unable to see anything in person. She would have to wait her turn to participate in this battle.
“Archer Squadron, Dragon Squadron, Growler Squadron... initiate attack run.” The disembodied voice ordered.
“Okay. We'll be going any minute now.” Shark Leader told them. “You know the routine.”
Life, death. In that order. Routine.
When the student had asked that question about the meaning or purpose of life, the Professor smiled and answered, “When you can answer the question, you will be ready for living your life.”
Were none of them living their lives now? Did this not count?
Marcus. Lydia loved him but she had never said so. She had never told him different, and that was also an answer. Sort of. Maybe Marcus was the meaning of her life. Maybe killing aliens and avenging her father were not the purpose of life.
“Shark Squadron, initiate attack as planned.” The voice ordered.
Not everything you do or want in life is some grand thing. Maybe even this war was meaningless in the grandest scheme of things.
“Let's go.” Shark leader said. Lydia gripped the controls and tilted the left one inward. The fighter ships flipped over and dived toward the barren planet below.
Some die, others live. Many never ask why.
End of part one.
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