First Comes Duty (The Hope Island Chronicles Book 2)

BOOK: First Comes Duty (The Hope Island Chronicles Book 2)
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This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialog are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2015 P J Strebor

Published by Tickety Boo Press Ltd

www.ticketyboopress.co.uk

Critiqued by J Scott-Marryat and my friends at sffchronicles.com

Edited by Sam Primeau

Cover Art by Gary Compton

Book Design by Big River Press Ltd

 

 

 

First Comes Duty

by

P J Strebor

Book Two

Hope Island Chronicles

Published by Tickety Boo Press Ltd

 

 

CHAPTER 1

Ensign Nathan Telford shut down his crippled port engine, lessening the vibration that churned through his controls. Thirty seconds remained for him to lock his boat on to the guidance beam. Failure to do so would force him to abort the landing. With enemy fighters closing fast from astern, it would mean the end of him.

His damage control menu confirmed what he’d been sensing.

“What a mess.” He wished he could wipe the sweat from his upper lip.

The surprise attack had severely damaged his Specter fighter. Only a few maneuvering thrusters remained. The instruments flickered between green and red, indicating a hit to his shipboard management computer. With a damaged SMC, none of his readings could be trusted. 

Nathan manipulated the remaining thrusters, forcing his fighter to acquire the beam for a straight-in approach to
Chiron
. Shutting down his engine, he applied full power to his forward thrusters to slow his approach. After a few seconds, an alarm wailed as the thrusters quit. A thin chance of getting back aboard remained if none of the others failed.

If not, he could skip past the boat bay. The other, less pleasant, options included crashing into the bay or colliding with the ship’s engines.

“This is bad. Bad,” he whispered.

“Ensign Telford,”
Chiron
’s landing signal officer said, “we show you in the groove and on the beam. But you are coming in too fast. Slow your approach or abort your landing.”

That’s it.
He shook his head, but knew he had no option. Endangering
Chiron
to save his own neck would never be acceptable.

His hand hovered above the attitude controls. A tingling ran along his fingers from the maneuvering control pad. The sensation traversed his arm and neck and struck a spot in his mind that screamed,
wait
. In a moment of crystal clear revelation, he knew the remaining controls would fail.

Nathan took a short breath.
Of course they will.

Engaging the fighter’s port thrusters, he pushed the boat through her lateral axis. A counter-blast from the starboard thrusters steadied the craft. The fighter fell toward the boat bay, stern first. Rotating the combat chair one hundred eighty degrees gave him an unobstructed view of the fast-approaching boat bay through the stern view plates. Initializing his remaining engine, he pushed the throttle to half power. For a few hopeful moments, his spirits lifted as the Specter’s speed dropped. Then the alarm blared. Shutting down the damaged engine silenced the alarm. The sanctuary of the
Chiron
’s boat bay was less than a kilometer ahead, a beacon of welcoming light in the darkness. Although his forward momentum had been cut, he still streaked toward the ship at a dangerously high approach speed.

If he followed the book, now would be the time to abort. However, his better instincts told him this could be done.

Nathan brought the two stern thrusters back online and applied a five-second burst at full power. His speed fell to nearly match
Chiron
’s velocity, but retained sufficient momentum to bring him aboard. 

Stern-first, his Specter passed through the environmental force field, dropped onto its skids and slid gently into the shimmering arrester field.

Although only a simulated training exercise, the advanced sim could mimic any conditions a pilot might encounter. Including sweat-inducing anxiety.

Nathan closed down all systems before constricting his throat with a short swallowing motion to key his larynx mike.

“Pier commander, pilot. Permission to retrieve?”

“Iris area is clear, Sir,” Petty Officer Forglor said. “Permission to retrieve granted. LSO wants a rapid retrieval.”

Of course the prick does.

“Roger.” Nathan took a deep breath. “SMC – Telford.”

“SMC,” the computer replied.

“SMC, prepare for rapid retrieval on my mark.”

“Standing by,” the SMC said.

His body tensed, fighting his efforts to relax. “SMC, mark.” The combat chair rocketed upward toward the top of the combat sphere. The clear panel slid aside, and the iris dilated.

When the combat chair cleared the upper hull, the iris snapped shut. Nathan caught his stomach as it threatened to keep going, and swallowed hard till the slight nausea passed.

PO Forglor assisted him to remove his gloves and helmet. Nathan wiped perspiration from his face with the offered towel.

After the recent excitement, the atmosphere in the fighter training simulation room had a hushed reverence akin to a wake. Around the perimeter of the iris, the other nine trainees of Epsilon Flight stared at him. Their expressions spoke of respectful, yet awed, disbelief. The back of his neck started warming up. Moe’s lopsided smile was accompanied by a slow shaking of her head. Nathan almost returned her smile, until he noticed that the senior officer present did not share her opinion of his capabilities.

From his position at the training officer’s control station, Lieutenant (JG) Austin Woodley glared at Nathan. His pathetic attempt at staring him down nearly caused Nathan to laugh aloud. The pale skin of his ridiculously youthful face had flushed red, nearly obscuring the fine pattern of freckles. They were the same age but Woodley ranked Nathan: just.

“What the devil do you think you were doing?”

Woodley’s well-rounded Republican accent had irritated Nathan from the moment he had been posted to their flight as an assistant training officer, two months ago. Now the pompous lieutenant simply bored him.

“Ah, landing practice?” Nathan said, cutting in his lethargic Kastorian drawl.

Smiles radiated from the trainees.

“That so-called maneuver was insane,” Woodley roared. “You do not land a fighter sternward into a monitor’s boat bay. That has never been done before, and with good reason. Are you mad?”

“There’s an ongoing debate with regard to my sanity,” Nathan said, mopping sweat from the back of his neck. “What do you think, Lieutenant?”

“I think that you have refused to call me Sir, as is my right, for the last two months.”

It constantly amazed Nathan how certain Republican bluebloods could maintain such a snotty angle to their heads for so long, without cramping. No one, but no one, got promoted to Lieutenant (JG) only six months after graduation. Not without backing from way up top.

Moe Okuma led the rest of the trainee pilots to stand beside Nathan.

“If you check the regs — you’ve read the regs, right? — you will see that respect for the uniform requires a subordinate to address an officer by either of those descriptions. Lieutenant.”

“Sir: you will address me as Sir, Ensign.”

He closed the distance until Nathan could tell what he had for lunch.

Nathan’s teeth set. “Get out of my face … Lieutenant.”

The other nine trainees closed around the arrogant fool, their expressions dark and menacing. 

Woodley’s complexion paled with dramatic effect.  His mouth opened and closed, but he had temporarily lost the ability to make sound.

The hatch slid open, and the trainees snapped to attention.

“At ease,” Commander Worsfold said. Not for the first time, his eyes held a touch of mischief. “So, how are things going?”

Nathan suppressed a smile. He had no doubt the commander knew perfectly well how things were going. Whether by technical manipulation or mystical clairvoyance, Worsfold always knew everything that happened with regard to his charges.

“Great, Skip,” Meta said. “You should have been here. Nathan pulled off the most outstanding trap I’ve ever seen.”

“Really? I’ll have to take a look at the recordings.” Worsfold rounded on the assistant training officer. “Lieutenant Woodley, have all of the trainees completed their allotted practice landings for the day?”

Woodley swallowed and found the place where he had lost his voice. “Yes, Sir, all trainees have completed two practice landings in the afternoon session. However, Ensign Telford—”

“Very well, Lieutenant,” Worsfold said, “we’re close enough to stand down to end practice for the day.”

  1. “But Commander, Ensign Tel—”

“Don’t worry about the debrief, Lieutenant Woodley. I’ll take care of it. No need to thank me. You are dismissed.”

“Commander, I feel it is my duty to report—”

Worsfold locked his gaze on to Woodley with the sort of menacing nuance the lieutenant would dearly love to emulate. “Lieutenant Woodley, what part of ‘you are dismissed’ are you having difficulty understanding?” The change in his tone, though unmistakable, was barely audible.

Woodley snapped to attention. In an act of rarely seen good sense, he chose the wise path. Turning on his heel, he marched from the training room. Worsfold set his face to a disapproving scowl, but still the hint of mischief remained.

“I’ve told you clowns before about teasing Woodley, have I not?”

“Woodley was riding Nathan again, Skip,” Meta said. “He set up an impossible ambush scenario and then got pissed off when Nathan brought his boat aboard.”

“That’s right, Skipper,” Ozzie said. “Because he couldn’t make the grade to get into Metier, he takes his pettiness out on us.”

“Not only us, Skipper,” Moe said. “Woodley’s tallied up complaints from every flight he’s been assigned to. And the less said about his promotion, the better.”

Commander Worsfold’s gaze fell onto Nathan. “And what do you think, Mister Telford?”

“He’s a bother, all right,” Nathan drawled, as he stepped away from the command chair. “But I expect the commander has the matter well in hand.”

“How flattering of you to think so.” His brief smile disappeared. “Now listen up. You’ve all done well in the last nine months, but next week we commence carrier qualification — and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a whole new game.”

A sea of grinning faces greeted him. 

“About bloody time,” Meta muttered.

Worsfold shot her a blistering glare. 

“I’m sure what Ensign Kaspowitz means is she is as pleased as all of us to be going out on Chiron.” Nathan shrugged. “You know how impatient Salamisians are, Skipper.”

“A pilot without patience is no asset to the Corps,” Worsfold growled. “Now listen up. If Woodley has a mind to, he could bring charges against the lot of you for today’s little stunt. You might be Metier trainees, and not the mere mortals who undergo flight training at this base, but you are bound by the same rules as every other officer in the Athenian Naval Service. So, between now and when we ship out, I don’t want any of you giving Woodley a hard time. It’s yes Sir, no Sir, three bags full, Sir. Tell me that you understand me?”

“Aye-aye, Sir,” they responded.

“Good. Now you might as well take off for the day. I’ll see you back here tomorrow at 0800 hours.” While they filed out, Worsfold held Nathan back with a hand resting on his shoulder. The trainees paused at the hatch, glancing back before moving on.

Worsfold leaned against the flight controller’s panel and folded his arms.

“That was a fine bit of flying. Grommits are traditionally expected to die in the Custer scenario.”

“I got lucky.”

“Yeah, all of your teachers and instructors attest to your luck.” His face held an odd mixture of emotions. A sort of simmering anger, to be sure, but something else, familiar yet elusive. “You’ve been lucky enough to earn top scores in leadership classes, advanced navigation, tactical analysis and atmospheric flight training. Your luck has extended to blowing out the numbers in the sims, and now you manage to escape from a program purposely designed to kill you. Your instructors use words like gifted, exceptional, even brilliant. The best natural pilot and tactician in the school, according to one of your instructors. Yes, for the last nine months you have been extremely lucky.”

Nathan felt simultaneously flattered, embarrassed and extremely cautious. “I guess I’ve done fair enough.”

“Yes, you have.” Worsfold took in the expanse of the Johhansen Mark Twenty-seven TF-51 Specter combat sphere simulator. His expression turned hostile. “And after all that good work, you go and pull this harebrained stunt. I put you back into the sims to sharpen you for carrier qual, not to screw around. I know you’re not stupid, so what is it? Do you think these simulations are a joke, Mister?”

“No, Sir.”

“Then why in God’s name didn’t you abort your landing?”

BOOK: First Comes Duty (The Hope Island Chronicles Book 2)
10.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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