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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - ADVENTURE
Second of three chapters detailing Wash's wartime flying adventures. Although these are a part of my post-war POW drama, they could actually work quite decently as a stand-alone Wash fic if you're interested in reading just this part.
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1023 RATING: 8 SERIES: FIREFLY
Wash watched in fascination as Major Myers displayed maps and diagrams. It turned out that Independent forces wanted to strike some critical Alliance targets on Shinon, but the planet’s air defense capabilities were nearly impenetrable. Automatic targeting systems would detect approaching craft, lock on and fire without even requiring the use of fighters. Nonetheless, patrols flew a constant rotation around the planet, monitoring approaches on a secondary system and challenging any non-Alliance craft that might make it through what had been termed the “net;” the automated defense system.
“We’ve figured out a possible way to cripple these defenses,” explained Major Myers. “The net is controlled by two command centers on opposite sides of the planet; a “master” and a “slave” center. The master center maintains the detection network and acts as the fire control transmission center for orbiting missiles for one half of the planet.”
Myers flashed a map on the screen illustrating the locations of the two centers and the resources they controlled. “The slave center receives fire control transmissions and relays the signals to missiles orbiting the other half of the planet. It also serves as a backup for the master center. In theory, if systems fail or are destroyed at the master center, an emergency data dump will shift control and monitoring over to the slave center.”
Wash yawned, trying to focus. He didn’t want to miss a word, but it had been an early morning, and his body was telling him it wanted more sleep, not technical data to memorize. Myers was explaining that if the master center were to be hit with an EMP directly before a conventional missile strike, the data dump would not take place, and the entire planet’s automated air defense system would be neutralized temporarily.
Within hours, the slave center could be placed online manually as the new master, restoring coverage to roughly half the planet. The other half could be vulnerable for days or weeks while technicians scrambled to cobble together a patch. Wash yawned again, attracting the attention of the eagle-eyed Myers.
“What’s your name, Lieutenant?” Myers asked.
“Wash. Uh, Washburne, sir.” Wash was embarrassed; the whole military etiquette thing wasn’t his strong suit, and it still took conscious effort for him to remember to address people as “sir,” but he desperately wanted to be a part of this meeting and to show himself worthy to be there.
“Is this yawning routine a less-then-subtle commentary on my oratorical skills, or just an indication of how little you think of this project?”
Wash wanted to crawl under the carpet and slither out of the room. “Neither. It’s more of an indication that I’m sleepy. Sir.”
Chuckles rippled through the room, and to Wash’s relief Myers grinned. “Well, at least you’re honest. Slap on a Syncafe patch and pay attention to what I’m saying. My ego is a precious and fragile thing.”
“Yes, sir,” Wash replied.
Myers continued his presentation. “With just the less lethal manned fighters to contend with, our forces would be relatively free to strike whatever targets they please. There are, however, considerable obstacles, the first being that we, uh, don’t know exactly where these command centers are.”
“We have a general idea, but a craft that can deliver EMP and conventional missiles large enough to take out a fortified command center won’t have enough fuel and undetected flight time to cruise around hunting for its target. We have to have exact coordinates before we go in, but we’ve lost all the unmanned reconnaissance craft we sent in to locate the center. They all got blown out of the sky after their power signatures were detected by the automated system,” said Myers.
Myers had been displaying a series of images on the screen behind him showing possible command center locations, defense system overview animations, and other mind-numbingly relevant details. He flashed up a star chart, and Wash blinked several times to focus his eyes. Then he rubbed them. When that failed to produce satisfactory results, he pinched himself, and yelped in pain.
Myers stopped speaking and raised his eyebrows. “Something else to say, Lieutenant Washburne?”
“Um – I – uh,” Wash cleared his throat awkwardly. Being called Lieutenant still sounded strange to him, although he rather liked it. “Why are there sharks orbiting Sihnon?”
A broad grin spread across Myers’ face as he watched all the other pilots double-take and snicker and bite their lips as they actually studied the chart. “Caffeine agrees with you, Washburne. Turns out you’re paying more attention than I thought.”
“Now. The second and equally obvious obstacle is how to get first the recon flight, then the actual strike craft, past these very defenses we’re trying to destroy.”
“Sir?” interrupted one of the pilots. “Couldn’t we just sneak someone in on the ground? I know its kinda heresy to suggest, but-“
Myers shook his head. “Nope. We’ve played out countless ground-based scenarios. Sihnon’s a core planet, and too tightly controlled. In short, we’re desperate. We’ve increased the security clearance of the twenty most skilled pilots stationed here, you guys, in case you were wondering, and we’re throwing the whole mess down in front of you. The hope is that actual front-line pilots might have ideas that our analysts don’t.”
Wash raised his hand. “Should be easy enough,” he said, swiveling every head in the room. “This net picks up electrical activity, right? But only for a two-mile thick bubble around the planet?” Myers nodded.
“Then just power down the ship completely, sail through on momentum, then start it back up once you’re through the net. Do the same on the way back up, and it’s done. Easy as a leaf on the wind.”
“You’re insane,” the pilot sitting next to him said.
“If we could get hold of an Alliance transponder, that would help with the not getting detected and shot down by their fighters. Coast through the net, then power up and activate the transponder. Abort the fall, then head for the ground real quick and fly below radar to look for the command center. Transmit the location, reverse the process, and then head out of atmo, quick.”
“Transmitting the location is risky,” chipped in another pilot. “Could be intercepted, and tip them off.”
“But if I get shot down on the way out, I won’t be able to relay the coordinates, and if I should get blown out of the sky, I’d really like some good to come of it,” said Wash dryly. “How ‘bout I locate the center, then fly under radar long and fast away from there. Get far enough out of the area so the center isn’t the first thing they think of, then transmit in code.”
“That could actually work,” said another of the pilots.
“No, it couldn’t!” protested another. “Chances are you’d just crash before you ever go powered up and under control again. And do you have any idea how fast you’d have to be going to coast through without power on the way up? Let’s say you even did make it. What if you fall back into the net while you’re starting things up?” He clapped his hands together sharply. “Boom. All over.”
Wash shrugged. “Complications,” he said. “Yeah, so there’s also about a hundred ways I could die tragically. Nothing that couldn’t be handled.”
“Who says it’d be tragic?” snarked one of the older pilots who’d developed an irrational dislike for Wash after having been beaten by him repeatedly during training exercises. Wash turned his head and glared at him, about to retort.
Myers threw up his hand to silence the group. “Washburne, I hear you saying ‘I’ a lot. You proposing to fly this suicide mission yourself? Are you really that confident about this scheme of yours?”
“I can do it,” said Wash. “It wouldn’t be that hard, aside from the possibility of a fiery and explosive demise if I can’t.”
Myers pinned Wash with a challenging stare. “Let me get this straight. You’ve never even flown a combat mission, and you think you can single-handedly plan and fly the missions that will solve a problem we’ve been working on for months? Forgive me if I’m just a bit skeptical.”
“I don’t mean to sound arrogant, sir. But – yes, I can do it if you’ll let me,” said Wash hesitantly.
Myers studied him for what seemed like an eternity, until Wash found himself seriously contemplating the physics of that little slithering under the carpet maneuver. “Sir?” he ventured.
Finally Myers broke eye contact with Wash and addressed the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the purpose of this meeting has been accomplished. I thank you all for your time. Zai jian. Lieutenant Washburne, we will continue this discussion privately.”
“You gonna reminisce with a happy look on yer face all day, or are you gonna save me from dyin’ of boredom over here?” asked Mal with a smile.
Wash looked back at him sheepishly. “You got a high tolerance for the technical?” he asked.
Mal shook his head, but then hastily reconsidered. “When I’m locked up I do. Captive audience, you might say.” He listened as Wash told him about the meeting with boyish delight. Only a man with a true passion for what he does could be this enthusiastic about a meeting, thought Mal affectionately.
“I had this long meeting with Myers, my Captain, and a couple of the intelligence guys. Myers was one seriously cool individual, and he actually talked them into letting me fly by the end of it.”
Wash had a giant, happy grin on his face. “They approved me for the recon mission.” He’d been ecstatic. His first combat mission wasn’t going to be a routine patrol, a backup mission, or a rescue operation. He, Wash, was going to be spearheading the Independent push to take down the air defenses of an entire core planet.
“I was never quite the jumping around whooping and hollering type, but when I got back to my quarters-“ he looked up sheepishly at Mal, “-there was noise. Lots and lots of noise. I couldn’t sleep all night I was so excited.”
“Took about three weeks to get everything all set up and approved. Finally took off and got down to business. Entered atmo, cut the power, and sailed through the net. Come through in one piece, in the most wickedly sickening tailspin there was. Flicked on an Alliance transponder, restarted the engines, and managed to get her under control just before I would’ve crashed and died. Wound up neatly under the radar and went command-center hunting.”
He chuckled. “Kinda hoped that wasn’t like snipe hunting.”
“That’d be one practical joke,” laughed Mal. “Can’t say I wouldn’t have tried to pull it myself, given the opportunity.”
Wash glared at him. “I went snipe-hunting, you bastard! Childhood trauma alert, Mr-“
“I get it. On with the story, my traumatized friend,” said Mal, throwing up a hand.
Wash had cruised along low to the ground, avoiding a nasty collection of hills and mountains that wanted to jump up and swipe him out of the sky. He’d memorized every simulation of what the command center should look like from the air, and he wasn’t seeing anything that even remotely resembled it. He finished sweeping the area with a heavy heart. What was he going to tell Myers? Sorry, thanks for the cool toys, but I didn’t see any command center? Cheers!
He looked at his gauges and figured he had another fifteen minutes of exploring before he absolutely had to head back. He reversed course, flying low over a foggy hill and beyond, searching in vain. Five minutes.
Something nagged at his brain. Foggy…..hill? Wasn’t fog supposed to inhabit valleys and plains and such? He banked sharply. Might as well check it out, wasn’t like anything else was lurking around waving at him. He clicked on his terrain mapping and infared systems as he approached, double-checking that his Alliance transponder was working. His whole body surged with excitement as his systems began to display a incomprehensible mass of flickering data. They’re being scrambled!
He eased lower into the fog and was startled to emerge below it almost immediately; the ground beneath him clear. Artificially generated camouflage! Sneaky Alliance. He spotted an outline of buildings that almost exactly resembled the hypothetical command center, and took note of the coordinates before he raced out of the area.
“Found it, went flying off all innocent-like, tossed off a few evil chuckles, and transmitted my coded message. I’m telling you, Mal. You haven’t lived until you’ve broadcast a coded message from within enemy territory.” Wash’s eyes were gleaming. “That stuff is way too much fun. Fairly certain we hold wars just to have an excuse to toss off phrases like that around our buddies.”
Mal laughed. “That, and shooting big guns. The male human loves an excessively large weapon.”
“Yeah, well. The guy who kept staring at the sidearm on his leg like it was a rabid weasel will trust you on that. Making me carry the thing when I flew was one of the military’s sillier notions.”
“I though you said you collected them,” said Mal, puzzled.
“Yeah, well, they weren’t actually equipment I was supposed to really shoot some poor bastard with. That was more me stalking around the woods sneaking stealthily up on paper targets I already knew the location of and telling myself what a tough guy I was.”
“Ah, got it,” said Mal, chuckling at Wash’s frankness.
“Anyway, I landed safely back at the base, congratulations ensued, walked around with a smirk on my face for the next week……you know, the usual.”
Actually, it had been a little more than that. Wash recalled the debriefing after he landed vividly. “Well, well, well. Look who’s still alive,” Myers greeted Wash with a grin.
“Alive and maybe just helping us win this war,” said Captain Liou, extending a congratulatory handshake. “I wasn’t a fan of sending you on this mission, but I’m not above eating a little goushi. Good job, pilot.”
“Xie xie, sir,” said Wash, returning the handshake with a delighted smile. “It was a dream come true.”
“For us as well,” said Myers. He looked keenly at Wash. “We have ourselves an attack to plan. That attack is going to need a pilot to take out the command center.”
He let his words hang in the air significantly before he continued. “This isn’t a promise of any sort. But are you interested in being considered for the mission?” Wash nodded mutely, too overwhelmed and ecstatic to speak.
Myers stared at him gravely. “The strike on the primary command center will be the start of a massive, coordinated attack across an entire planet. We’ll be committing significant resources to the attack, which could be one of the most important of the war. Without the command center dead, the whole operation will be a bust. Do you realize the huge responsibility in the hands of the pilot flying that strike?”
Turn and run. Now, one part of Wash’s mind was saying. You’re an eighteen-year-old kid, and you’ve got no business playing games with this. Wash braced himself to tell Myers to give the assignment to someone more experienced. To a real pilot. A real soldier.
But you can do it! Easily! Wash’s instincts protested. You going to pass up the chance of a lifetime, to accomplish your wildest dreams? You wanted to prove yourself, and this man thinks enough of you to offer you a shot at it. He took a deep breath and looked Myers in the eye. “Yes, sir. I – I do.”
Wednesday, August 02, 2006 6:40 AM
Wednesday, August 02, 2006 6:42 AM
Wednesday, August 02, 2006 4:20 PM
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