"Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!"
"Come on baby, stay in the air," begged John Harkness as he fought for his life.
His A20 bucked and squealed its distress as bits fell off and smoke belched out of the starboard engine. John had one hand wrestling with the controls and the other frantically trying to switch systems around to keep him in the air. 'Where's 'R2' when you really need him?' thought the Star Wars fan hysterically as he struggled to do too many tasks at once.
John flinched! It felt like something substantial had just fallen off his Super Warthog; the resultant kick threw him fifty metres higher and exposed him to the dickhead's anti-air systems, not a pleasant thought. John cranked the control column forward; desperate to lose the height he'd just gained and hoped that he wasn't being too violent with his crippled aircraft. One thing was for sure, he wasn't getting back to the Wake in this Hog, so he'd better find somewhere flat to put his wounded bird down and then see about surviving.
"Mudlark Nine, report your status."
The mission controller, who was sat safely aboard CSS Wake up in orbit, whispered in his headset. The calm and professional manner of the controller cut through the panic that John was starting to feel. As his nerves settled down it dawned on him that he hadn't been forgotten. There may not be a lot they could do to help but at least he wasn't alone.
"Nine, I've taken extensive damage," he reported, "and will be unable to return to Mother." He paused as he checked the ground ahead of him. "I'm going to be putting it down somewhere around here."
"Roger Nine, We'll alert the Sandies," announced the reassuring voice in his ear.
The Sandies, a name that was a hangover from the days when the aircraft were propeller driven, were the Search and Rescue crews who came looking for downed pilots.
'Oh good, ' thought John, 'all I need to do now is get down in one piece."
The A20 was the perfect craft for the position John found himself in, though he wasn't giving that fact much thought. The Hog may not have been as flash as the various fighters that the Confederacy were using elsewhere but it had been designed following the same philosophy as the old A10 and could take one hell of a kicking and still get the pilot down safely. It's only shortcoming, and one that the Dash-3 model was supposed to overcome, was the lack of a transporter terminus. The human designers hadn't thought of it when they were developing the aircraft and there wasn't sufficient space to cram one in after production had started.
In an ideal galaxy production would have been suspended and the craft modified but there was a war on and the ground pounders needed all the help they could get. This meant that the first two hundred craft, which had already been completed, had been shipped and those already in production, call it another two hundred, would follow on before the 'safety' modification could be implemented.
John gave up trying to keep the craft in the air and started to look for somewhere to put it down. His on-board map showed a couple of likely looking flat spaces in the next few miles; all he had to do was pick one.
"Well, Lady," he muttered to Lady Luck, "It's all up to you now," as he drifted his wounded bird through a very gentle turn and lined up with the longest flat space he'd been able to find. He prepared himself for what was coming, ensuring that his harness was done up as tight as he could get it. He checked around the cockpit and ensured that everything was as secure as possible, the last thing he wanted was to be decapitated by a stray panel.
John kept the approach as slow and flat as he could manage and prayed the whole way in but the ground still managed to rush up to meet him. As these things went it was a pretty good landing, the Hog kept itself flat and pretty much in one piece until it finally ground to a halt, covering his cockpit with bits of flying grass and the odd branch.
John sat there for a minute or so let and let things settle down around him before he cranked the hood open and took a good look around. Things didn't look too inhospitable out there but he needed to get away from the wreck before the dickheads showed up and dragged both him and the aircraft away for examination.
Grabbing a few bits and pieces of kit that he thought might useful he scrambled out of the cockpit and tossed them to the ground. Standing on the wing root he turned back to the cockpit and reached down to a bright red handle, "Bye baby," he said quietly, "thanks for keeping me alive." Then he twisted the handle, activating the A20's self-destruct mechanism, which should deny its technology to the dickheads.
That task completed he dropped down and collected his meagre items before heading for the nearest tree line, hoping that the good guys would get here before the bad.
In high orbit a message was passed from the Midway class carrier CSS Wake to the Tarawa class assault ship CSS Bulwark requesting assistance for a downed pilot. The message resulted in another, shorter message, being passed to Gunnery Sergeant Paula Wilson on the flight deck of the Bulwark. Paula was the commander of the standby assault shuttle that Bulwark maintained and the message she received was to prepare for an emergency tasking.
"Roger Control," she responded, "state mission type."
"It's a Search and Rescue job," reported the controller, "One of the Wake's pilot's has gone in and they're putting together a rescue package now."
"Got you, I'll round up the people I need," replied Paula.
"You heard the man, Jamie, let's get sorted." Paula switched channels, "Keiron confirm what ordnance we've got on the wings and let Jamie know, will you."
The standard crew for a Panther Assault shuttle was three, the Command Pilot, the second pilot, and an Air-Load-Master who rode in the back. In the case of CSS Bulwark the shuttles and crews were all from C company, Fifth Assault Landing Battalion.
"Will do," came the reply from the back of the Panther. "Do you want me to round up some ground pounders?" asked the Air-Load-Master who'd been monitoring the radio channels.
"No Keiron," replied Paula, "I'll do that. What I want you to do is find me some sort of medical team, just in case."
Gunnery Sergeant Keiron Puddle, the Air-Load-Master of Bulwark 07, had been looking at the short stubby wings of the Panther Assault shuttle while he'd been listening to his boss. The inboard hard points had cluster bombs mounted and the outboard stations had triple-racked stand off missiles, the latest incarnation of the old AGM-65 Maverick. He reported this to the Gunnery Sergeant Jamie Omi, the second pilot and then he headed off to the medical bay to see what he could round up.
Paula Wilson entered the Battalion command post and looked around. It was a pretty frantic place with most of the battalion already on the planet and fighting as part of the assault brigade. The limited staff available was hard pressed to keep up with the flow of information and demands for support coming up from the ground. It took a couple of minutes before she spotted the S3, when he stepped out from behind a display screen.
"Sir," she called, "I need to have a quick word." Paula moved towards the harried looking operations officer before he could disappear again.
Major Cavendish stopped, "What can I do for you," he asked abruptly.
"I've been tasked with a SAR mission and need at least a squad to support me."
"Where the hell am I supposed to find you a squad?" moaned the Major, which Paula took as a rhetorical question and sensibly stayed quiet.
The Major got a faraway look as he studied his options, which were severely limited. "Staff," he called across the room, "how many odds and sods have we got left up here?"
A Staff Sergeant looked up from a screen he was studying, "Effectives here are nine," he said, "with about another dozen sick, lame and lazy."
"Who's the senior effective?"
"Sergeant Young, he's helping out down in the armoury," The Staff Sergeant looked at Paula and smiled, "Want me to get him for you, Sir?"
"Don't bother bringing him here," replied the Major, "Just get him down to the flight deck with the rest of the effectives." He glanced at Paula and then added, "Tell them full combat rig." The Major grinned at Paula, "May as well go prepared," he said.
Paula grinned back, "My bird's tooled up as well, Sir. I'll get them back as soon as I can." She saluted and turned away, surprised at how easy that had been.
Which is the exact opposite to what was happening down in the medical bay.
"It's simple Gunny, I don't have any Corpsmen available so you'll have to do without," said the man in the white coat adorned with a Captain's bars.
Gunny Puddle looked around the medical bay and took note of the absence of patients; "May I ask where they are, Sir?"
"They've been deployed to the surface," said the Captain, "to assist around the aid station that the Mary Seacole set up."
The Mary Seacole was one of the Aurora colony transports that the Navy had modified into the Nurse class hospital ships. Confederacy technology helped a great deal when Marines were injured but it wasn't instantaneous and the ships provided facilities that improved the lot of the injured as well as giving immediate aid.
Half a dozen women dressed in the grey smock that most concubines were issued with and some wore long after their extraction were loitering around the room. Keiron eyed them for a moment before asking the stroppy Captain, "Who are those women?"
.... There is more of this story ...
Science Fiction /