"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?"
The Captain glanced in the direction Keiron had indicated and shrugged, "Just concubines."
"What do they do here?" he asked.
"Help out," replied the Captain.
"Could I take them with me?"
"Why? They're just concubines?" said the Captain.
"If I'm handling the shuttle I'd like someone to hang on to the casualty," replied the Gunnery Sergeant getting just a little peeved.
"I suppose they could do that, but you'd need permission from their owner," said the Captain, dismissively.
"Crap!" muttered Keiron.
"Excuse me, Sir," said the woman nearest to the pair.
"What?" demanded the Captain.
"Jane and I are with the Civil Service, we don't actually have sponsors," she said, "I'm sure we could go."
"It's up to you," said the Captain to Keiron before turning away no longer interested. As long as they did as they were told, concubines, other than his own, were not his problem.
Keiron got on to the AI, "Put me through to the Civil Service rep responsible for, Shit..." he broke off his conversation with the AI. "What are your names?"
"Jane Clark," responded the plump blond.
"Christina Rodriguez," replied the brunette who'd first spoke to him.
"AI, get me the Civil Service rep in charge of Jane Clark and Christina Rodriguez."
In his head Keiron heard, "The representative you requested is not on the vessel. The concubines in question were allocated to the ship before departure. They are part of the ship's equipment."
"AI, transfer the two concubines mentioned to the shuttle 07."
"Transfer complete," responded the voice in Keiron's head.
"AI, notify the concubines of their changed duty station."
A speaker in the medical bay crackled and then a voice said, "Concubine Jane Clark, you are to go to the flight deck and join the shuttle Bulwark 07. Concubine Christina Rodriguez, you are to go to the flight deck and join the shuttle Bulwark 07."
Belatedly a thought crossed Keiron's mind and he asked, "Why did you want to come with us?"
Jane looked at Christina, who was clearly the spokeswoman for the pair. "We were nurses before we were picked up. Going with you at least makes us seem useful," she glanced at the distant figure of the Captain, "rather than just a scrubber."
Keiron looked the two women over and contemplated the vagaries of the CAP system. Here were two women who'd held responsible jobs back on Earth and hadn't made the cut, yet he, a used car salesman, had. Maybe there was some truth in the rumours that CAP testing was biased against the fairer sex. Still he had a job to do.
"Fine, let's get out of here before someone changes their mind." He started for the door but pulled up short when Jane blurted out, "Shouldn't we take some kit with us."
Keiron slapped his forehead, "Go on, you know what's needed," he said feeling just a little stupid.
The women dashed around for a couple of minutes, getting the odd scowl from the Captain but ignoring him as much as possible. They threw a variety of items into a plastic box and then crossed to Keiron who led them off to the flight deck.
John Harkness felt a twinge from his ankle as he scrambled around looking for a good place to hide that wasn't too far from his downed craft. Thinking more of his time in the US Navy than any survival training he'd received from the Confederacy he didn't want to make it too hard for the search and rescue people to find him. By the same token he didn't want to pick a place that would make it easy for the dickheads, who he was sure were coming, to find him.
In the back of his mind he was running a clock on how long it was going to take for the Sa'arm to arrive and more importantly, how long it would take the rescue team to arrive. Of secondary importance at the moment were the possible actions that the dickheads would take when they found he wasn't with his fighter.
His thoughts were interrupted by the thunderous explosion as the A20 blew up, it's self-destruct having given him its ten minutes to get away before it unleashed its explosive might rendering itself into scrap and hopefully destroying anything that may have been of use to the Sa'arm.
Finally John holed up on a small rise, not the largest around, but one that gave him a reasonable view of the crash site without exposing him too much. Hopefully his green flight suit would provide enough camouflage to render him invisible to the enemy.
It had been quite a while since he'd sent out his mayday and he was getting nervous. How much longer was it going to take for the good guys to turn up?
Fifteen minutes after he'd settled into his hiding place the peace and quiet was disturbed by the arrival of two squads of dickheads. They appeared beneath him in two of the light armoured vehicles they used on just about every planet he'd seen. John was a little pissed off as they'd gotten there much quicker than he'd hoped for. As far as he knew they'd come from his target area, which meant they'd covered thirty odd klicks in as many minutes, not exactly hanging around.
A dozen dickheads climbed out of each vehicle and formed a skirmish line well short of the wreck. Without any verbal command the line started to move slowly forward, scanning the ground as it moved. Every so often it would grind to a halt as an alien would pick up something and after studying it for a few moments would toss it down behind him or stow it in one of the sacks that they all seemed to be carrying.
John felt fortunate that the dickheads were actually moving away from his present position, if nothing else it gave him time to observe, and if necessary a head start when it came to running. The fact that they weren't looking around led him to believe that they were of the opinion that he had gone up with his craft, another plus point for his survival.
Now if only the rescue team would get here, he'd be happy to leave.
Sergeant Paul Young looked over the rag-tag collection of Marines that staggered onto the flight deck and wasn't impressed. Which, he admitted to himself, was probably how they regarded him. Like the majority of the Marines they'd all received the standard augmentation package so they all stood two metres tall and were packed with muscle, but anyone with any experience with soldiers could tell that these were not the pick of the crop.
Their appearance was sloppy, even allowing for the speed with which they'd been required to assemble; their equipment was badly fitting, or in some cases missing and their whole attitude was slack.
Not sure what to do he looked around and was pleased to see a woman approaching in a flight suit. "Sergeant Young?" she asked when she got closer.
"That's me," replied the Sergeant.
"I'm Master Sergeant Wilson and this is my bird," she said jerking her thumb in the direction of the dropship. "You people," she raised her voice to include all of the Marines, "are coming with me to get a pilot who's gone down. Hopefully you'll just be along for the ride but if it's required you'll be the ground element."
Wilson looked around and was as unimpressed as Paul Young had been, "Get aboard and get your kit sorted. As soon as the Load-Master gets back we'll be heading out." Paula turned away and headed for her position in the cockpit.
Paul Young looked around and grabbed his pack, "Well you heard the pilot, let's get it together," he said before heading for the loading ramp. Behind him, amidst a fair bit of muttering, eight Marines picked up their kit and shuffled towards the waiting craft.
As the last of the Marines entered the Panther, Gunny Puddle and his two concubines entered the Bulwark's flight deck carrying the medical supplies they'd helped themselves to.
"Come on, this way," said Keiron heading for his bird. Now back in range, the low powered communications gear he wore picked up the flight deck. "Skipper, I've got a couple of nurses with me, we'll be ready to go in a couple of minutes."
"Thanks Keiron," replied Paula, "There's a bunch of ground pounders in the back, see what you can do to get them sorted out, will you?"
"OK, I'll let you know when things are secure," said the Load-Master, mounting the ramp.
Science Fiction /