It all started back during my days of training to be a Space Pilot. I don't quite know why, but all I ever wanted to be was a Space Pilot. To fly in space and protect Earth from any invading hordes. Granted, there weren't many problems, now that Earth had been defended against the attack where the alien invaders tried to turn our people into ravaging mutants. Since then, things have been pretty quiet, some would say too quiet. But I for one still wanted to be part of the Space Pilots. I knew there would be other space bound adventures and I for one wanted to be part of them. Life on Earth was pretty dull and even the newly colonized Mars didn't offer that much more excitement. Sure you had the thrill of claiming your piece of land and developing it. But even with the Terraformer, the planet was still not the same. All the plant and wildlife was brought from Earth and while some of it has mutated and evolved under the new conditions, they were all essentially the same. Sure a six legged rabbit that can leap thirty feet is pretty cool the first time you see one, but the novelty grows old. That is the problem with Mars, it is a playground for scientists. Without all the restrictions of Earth, they can go nuts. I still remember some cruel scientist who was developing a way to make life forms invincible. Well, he thought it would be funny to do this to lemmings. So once every year, you would have a bunch of invincible lemmings jumping off cliffs, over and over again. It is funny the first few times they try, but it soon is just cruel and you really feel for these poor creatures that want to die, but just cannot do it. While it may sound pretty sick, and it is, it has become quite a tourist attraction and every year, thousands of people come to Mars to watch the spectacle.
Enough about Mars, I craved the kind of excitement that only the mysteries of deep space offered. Little did I know that my wish was ready to come true. While I was in flight school, something happened that would change all our lives forever. Far off in space, the scientists noticed a cluster of what appeared to be asteroids, very large ones, to be moving at an unusual rate of speed and direction. They almost seemed to be moving in a set pattern, with the destination being Earth. While they were still a ways away, they were closing in fast. All the greatest minds that our planet had to offer, assembled for a meeting and began to come up with theories behind the mysterious asteroids and their path towards Earth. For days, these great minds met and after all that time, they came up with what any military leader could have come up with immediately. They decided to send a squadron out to photograph the asteroids and retrieve data. Then with this data, they could get a better idea of what they were dealing with.
The news of this spread very fast. With the ultranet and its instantaneous nature between the two worlds, news was everywhere, even on the colonies on the Moon and they are always the last to know. Soon, the deployment of ships is sent out to look into this strange phenomenon and to see what can be done to alter its course.
I still remember how I can remember how everyone stopped to watch the news broadcast of the launching and how we all felt proud and worried as we sent our best pilots out into the great unknown. I can also remember the jealousy as I wanted so badly to be part of that first group. I wanted the adoration and the glory that was bestowed on the brave heroes as they were so frequently called by the press. But I knew that a rookie pilot like myself would never be called upon for such a dangerous mission. I needed to prove myself as a pilot before I could ever get a mission of such importance. To quote an old cliché, I had to earn my wings.
A few days later, the first reports back from the pilots came. They were still a few days away from the asteroids and were letting everyone know they were safe. They were smiling as they all pulled into a refueling space station that was one of many that were sent into space. It was part of a major project that launched six such satellites in a three year period, to different parts of the galaxy as a means for these pilots to be able to refuel, rest and get any necessary repairs. While we were getting farther and farther into space, we still did not have fuel efficient ships. Even with solar panels added to the ships, they still needed fossil fuel to power their engines. Lots of fuel and so we kept building and deploying more and more of these fuel stations into space, each one further than the last. This way we could stay in space longer and go further.
While the other newscast were etched into my psyche, nothing would ever be more etched or haunt me more than the next newscast. It was a few days later that we had a live broadcast (actually it was delayed as they haven't perfected instantaneous space transmission yet). The ships had just come up to the asteroids and were getting ready to fly in for a closer look. We watched as the ships flew towards these towering slabs of stone. As they neared, everyone in the barracks began to say stuff like "I cannot believe it" and "Did you see that?" As the ships got closer, there was a wall, a great wall, built into the side of the asteroid. Not even the scientists could try to pass this off as a freak of nature like that face on Mars. This was an actual wall, complete with giant bricks. It looked like some giant's castle from Jack and the Beanstalk or some other fairy tale. We held our collective breath as the ships flew up over the giant wall. What was on the other side? Was there some great beast waiting? Was there some conquering army? Maybe this was part of a dead planet, floating in space. No one knew for sure, but the suspense was killing us. We had to know and we were only moments from finding out. What would be on the other side of that wall?
On the other side of the wall was a vast city like structure. There were silos, radar dishes, buildings and fleets of space ships. "Holy mother...." was all we heard from the pilots. It was the last thing we heard too. Before we had a chance to get a real good look, the silos emitted missiles. Soon the space above the asteroid was filled with missiles and one by one the ships were destroyed. A few were lucky enough to avoid an instant death, but were quickly chased down by the squadrons of ships as they easily outmaneuvered and outgunned our men. The battle was over in minutes.
The entire world stood stunned. We had just encountered the most one-sided defeat in earth's history. Not a single casualty for their side. We didn't get off a single shot. There were no survivors, nothing. Just a grim message that life was going to change real soon and not for the better. Before we had time to mourn, a voice came over the television screens. With all the ships destroyed, we could not understand how this was happening, but with a technology as advanced as theirs, we figured it was possible. The voice said in a very deep and very menacing pitch "People of Earth, you have witnessed a very small amount of the power of Zaxxon. Tremble in fear, for I am coming and noone will be spared." The transmission then ended and every person you could see was frozen in place. How can we stop this threat? Can we stop it? How long do we have? These were the questions on everyone's lips. After a few seconds of frozen terror, everyone began rushing here and there. It was like we all knew our time was severely limited and we better make the best of it.
For the next few days, all television programs were put on hold as constant reports came. There was a countdown til the Zaxxon would reach us. The scientist held news conferences as they all told their plans for stopping this menace, this menace from outer space. Some suggested sending nuclear weapons at the Zaxxon. Others suggested sending more ships, better equipped ones. Others suggested trying to reason with them. Every know frequency was tried in an futile attempt to reach the Zaxxon. Nothing worked and the countdown was getting smaller. We were down to five days and counting.
Then something happened that we did not expect at all. From out of nowhere, a fleet of ships appeared over our military bases on the moon and Mars. Within minutes, they crippled them and killed nearly everyone of our pilots, not to mention thousands of civilians, officers, maintenance men and others who were unfortunate enough to be caught in their fury. Hundreds of starships were gone along with thousands of tons of weapons. There was so much artillery on Mars that when it went up, it left a crater. A very large and ominous crater that will forever stand as a reminder of the sheer might of the Zaxxon.
Now there was nothing standing between the Zaxxon and Earth. Even the satellites we sent out so many years ago were all destroyed. It was coming right for us and there was nothing we could do to stop it. Nothing but pray and boy were the churches full. Everyone was converting to whatever religion had an open seat. Didn't matter which, just so long as some God heard your prayers and forgave your sins. The end of the world was coming and it was time to make up for a life of self indulgence.
It was in these most gloomy times that heroes are forged. I was about to play a role in this and only God knew for sure the outcome. It was at this time when my classmates and myself were called in. With many of the experienced pilots dead, they had to resort to bringing in the new recruits. As we were huddled together in a room, a general came up to a podium and began to talk to the twenty plus pilots in the room. "Men, we normally don't call upon such raw recruits for such a dangerous and important mission, but under these circumstances, we have no other option. Starting tomorrow, we are going on a crash course and will have you up and ready to fly in 48 hours. Anyone who wants to back out now, this is your chance. I cannot guarantee any of you will return from this mission, so we will understand if you want to leave now. Just know that when the aliens come to kill you and your family, that you allowed it to happen. When that alien kills your mother or your sister, know that their blood is on your hands." he said as he glared out at the room. After a few minutes, noone stood up. Noone dared to. We would rather face death from an alien invader than the shame that came with turning your back on your planet, on mankind in its most dire hour. He then added "Good, then get some rest as it may be the last time you get to sleep." He then walked out of the room. One by one we got up and walked off.
The second day was even more strenous than the first one. We were taken to ships and had to fly formations and then fly through an obstactle course. While the course was made up of nothing more than holographic projections, we were judged on how close we came to the canyon walls, buildings and other such structures. The reasoning behind the holographic images is that the military cannot afford to destroy ships and pilots, so this way you can get the kinks out, without costing the military a fortune. This was especially true in this day and age when the amount of ships and pilots were in very short supply.
While I slept soundly, the drugs saw to that, I did have nightmares. Over and over I would see the Zaxxon come and destroy Earth. No matter what I did, the ending was always the same. When I awoke and recalled my dreams, I could only hope they weren't an omen of events to come. I prayed they were nothing more than the deep down fear I was feeling, manifesting itself into dreams. But no matter how much I tried to convince myself that they were only dreams, I could not help but dread the coming day. As I look around at my fellow pilots, I could see that I was not alone in my thinking. There was a very uneasy silence. The usual jokes and stories that were normally told during showers and over breakfast, were not present. Instead, there were looks of fear in the eyes of all the pilots. While I never been to a prison, I could only guess that death row must have the same kind of cloud of doom, hanging over it.
As we finish our meals, we are called into the main courtyard. The general returns and stands at a podium, while we all sit in chairs that were put there earlier. As we all salute him and sit down, he looks over the group. First he pans to the right and then back to the left. There is an unsettling feeling going through the group. But before we have time to worry, he speaks "Men, we have worked you very hard the last few days. We have driven you like no other pilots. But I do not need to remind you of the urgency of the situation at hand and the great importance that has been placed upon your shoulders. A few days ago, you were merely cadets, raw cadets that have been molded into fighter pilots." He stops to catch his breath and to stare over the crowd again. While he may be old, at least in his early sixties, he has a stare that would stop the greatest beast in its tracks. Once he is assured that everyone is on the edge of their seats, he continues "Today, you will go out and save the planet that you have called home. Today, you will venture forth and stop a menace so great that the human race has never faced such a challenge. Today, you will go out and KICK THE ZAXXONS BUTT ALL THE WAY BACK TO ITS HOME PLANET!" With that, everyone rose and cheered. The general may not be the best speechmaker in the world, but he does know how to get a crowd going. After a few minutes of cheering, he gestures for us to return to our seats. "Gentlemen, we are now going to draw names from a barrel. We will draw a total of three names. These lucky pilots will get a chance to fly experimental ships. While these ships have not been tested fully, they may spell out the last hope for the human race." he says as a few men bring up a raffle barrel. It is the same one that has been used at charity events and other social functions. The men turn the barrel and the papers with our names on it roll around and around. When it stops, the general sticks his hand in and pulls out three pieces of paper. He clears his throat and yells out "McIntire, Davis and Wallace, you have been chosen. Follow these men to your ships and may God be with you." As they walked off, I could not stop thinking if I was lucky or unlucky that my name wasn't chosen. There wasn't much time to worry about it now, as we were led to our ships. As we stood there and looked at them, some men in lab coats walked over and said "There have been some minor modifications to your ships. We have tweaked the engines to increase your speed, improved the radar and beefed up the weapons. So she may handle a little bit differently than the ones you practiced on." After that, we were each shown to our ship. As I stared at my ship, knowing full well that it may become my coffin, I couldn't help but feel pride. As I looked over, I saw there were no cameras, no press. While this struck me as odd, I quickly guessed that this was a top secret mission and they didn't want to take any chances at tipping the Zaxxon off. I then saluted and walked up the ladder to my ship.
As we sat and waited for our clearance, I familiarized myself with the controls. I looked over to make sure I knew where everything was. While I have done it a dozen times, I didn't want a single mistake to happen. There was too much riding on our shoulders. Within minutes, we were given the clearance and we took off. As we flew in formation, we soon got our first peek at the experimental ships. Each one was different. One was totally black and looked alot like the stealth planes of the 20th century. Another was very long and had very short wings. It also resembled a torpedo in shape. The last one had two sets of wings that rotated in all directions. Each one was to lead a squadron. The rest of us followed behind as we headed off into space. I followed behind the stealth one and tried my best to keep in the formation. We were in a classic "V" formation as we headed out to meet the Zaxxon. We knew we were mankind's last hope and no sacrifice was too great, even if it meant our lives.
Our flight to the Zaxxon was a short one. Since it had been moving towards us, I knew that it would only be a matter of hours, before we were upon it. As we first saw the monstrous asteroids in the distance, we couldn't help but feel our stomachs tightening up into little knots. Ahead of us stood almost certain death. We knew the chances of coming back were remote at best. The thought of dying out here in this cold, lifeless space was terrifying, but not as terrifying as the thought of failure and what would become of our planet. So we all swallowed hard and headed out towards the Zaxxon.
As we neared it, some of the ships broke formation and headed into different directions. We were all briefed beforehand on our assignments. I knew that we had some tricks up our sleeve, but what they were, I have no idea. My mission was simply to fly in and cause as much trouble as possible. My ship, while not one of the special ones, had been modified. It was faster, could withstand more damage and had greater firepower than the ships that came before it. It was superior to the ones that met their demise when the Zaxxon was first discovered. As the mighty asteroid came closer, my squadron headed right at it. As we made our way over the immense wall, we got the first glimpse of the city below. All around were ships that were beginning to ascend towards us. There were mighty radar dishes that were turning in all directions and missile silos that just began to shoot out missiles to greet us. I knew it was my time to act. As the engineers showed me, I opened a panel and was greeted by a selection of buttons. They were in three color sequences. There was a blue, then green and lastly a red button. I went and pushed all the blue buttons, which armed the missiles. Then I moved to push the green buttons which moved them into place. As I was flying down, I saw some of the enemy ships coming towards my squadron. I knew that my timing had to be perfect. As I flew down towards the silos and what appeared to be storage tanks for fuel or something else, I locked on the target and pressed the first red button. WHOOSH! The rocket flew straight at the storage tank and I pulled up on the controls to avoid the coming explosion. When the rocket hit, there was a huge explosion. An inferno erupted and the enemy ships that were following me, caught the brunt of the explosion and were obliterated. I let out a loud cheer as I flew in and searched for the next target.
A few of my buddies weren't so lucky. Jack, who was flying in to take out a radar dish, was hit by one of the missiles. His ship was destroyed before he could complete his mission. Willie also died quickly. While he was able to destroy some of the enemy ships before they got off, he was also taken out by a missile. It popped out from under him and he never saw it coming. A great sadness overcame me, but I knew that I had no time for tears. If I was going to live, I had to strike and strike hard. Up ahead was another storage tank and I set my sights on it. This time I shot the rocket off and took a hard turn to the left. As the rocket hit, the explosion was even greater than the last and this time it also took out some of the enemy ships.
As I straightened out, I saw some enemy planes coming after me. I knew that they were faster and would catch me quickly, so I dropped as low as I could and started shooting everything in sight. If I was to die, I was going to do as much damage as possible. I saw a radar dish and what looked like some tanks, up ahead. I hit the last two red buttons and sent some rockets towards them. Then I pulled the controls straight up and flew right past the amazed ships. If the move wasn't so unexpected, they would have shot me. Before they had time to react, they were caught in the explosion.
Up ahead, I saw one of the experimental ships. It flew right at a base of enemy ships and crashed into it, setting of an explosion like I had never seen. As my ship was rocked by the explosion, I realized it was a kamikaze ship and was packed with explosives. All of sudden, I didn't feel so bad about not being chosen. As the asteroid began to shake from the explosion, I pulled up and headed to the next one. As I looked back, I could see that there were only a few of us left. We had destroyed one of the asteroids, but at what cost? There were still many more to go and we were down to about six ships. At this rate, we would have no chance.
As we flew into the next asteroid, I looked at the remnants of the squadron and saw there was only one experimental ship left. As we flew in, we noticed that most of the ships had already left. There were still the missiles and some enemy ships, but most of us were able to avoid them. As we flew further in, we only lost two more ships. One to a missile and one hit the accursed energy fences. Once the last fence was passed, we found ourselves in a huge, open area. There were no missiles or ships or anything. Before we had time to question this vast emptiness, we saw something incredible coming. A great robot, standing over a hundred feet tall headed towards us. If there was sound in space, I am sure it would have made a terrible noise, like thunder. As it neared, we heard in our heads, "Beware the power of Zaxxon!" It was enough to make me want to turn and run. But I stayed in formation as we headed towards the great behemoth.
Two of the regular ships were first to attack. They broke formation, one to the right and one to the left. As they did, they sent out a flurry of missiles. As the missiles flew towards the Zaxxon, great plates opened up and out shot a flurry of missiles. Not only were the oncoming missiles destroyed, before they reached their target, but the ships were also obliterated. That left the experimental ship and myself. The experimental ship was the next to fly in. As it flew in, a bunch of missiles began to shoot out. I had never seen so many missiles come from one ship. It was like there were weapons on every inch of the ship. But none of them reached the Zaxxon as it let out another volley of missiles, even greater than the last. Soon the ship was completely destroyed and nothing but dust was left.
Fearing for my life, I pulled up and flew out as fast as I could. I knew that I had no chance to defeat the Zaxxon and to stay was suicide. As I flew back towards Earth, knowing that my days were numbered, I heard a message coming through on the radio. "What's the status, over." I paused for a moment and said "Everyone is dead except me sir. We destroyed one asteroid, but the Zaxxon killed the rest of us, over." As I looked behind me, I saw the mighty Zaxxon, standing there like he was gloating. It was almost enough to make me want to go back and kill him, but another message came across. "Come on home, we made a pact with another race and with their help and the knowledge you have acquired, we are going to destroy the Zaxxon, once and for all. So head back here and Long Live Gorf!" That was the final message I heard as I headed back to Earth.
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