Demon’s Rise

Again and again, he had played the numbers game on the computer screen before him. Again and again, he studied the ballet of her death in the choking grey skies over the Waldreich mountians. Again and again, his fists clenched at her turns, moved unconsciously to tease a throttle that wasn’t there and pulled back to put her nose to the blue one last time.

And through it all, the Demon Lord could not paint in his mind a picture of his target. The recordings taken from Vixen’s mangled black box were remarkable intact given what her final resting place looked like. She had been returning from a textbook strike mission on a camp of “revolutionaries” the government of Ustio wanted put down before they rose into a wildfire. He had visited her that morning, jealous of how her Su-34/FULLBACK would taste clean air while his F-15C/Eagle was in pieces after flying far more hours than it was ever supposed to. She was merciless in her teasing, that the hellhound on his nose would have to sit and wait like a good boy until she got back, and tempted him with a last kiss and the promise of all good things to come.

The mission itself was uneventful. She had coordinated her location and vector with Valeris Air Base controllers, held an easy thirty-thousand ft altitude while she locked up her targets and then rolled easily into a screaming dive and almost mach speeds. Pitiful anti-aircraft fire rose up to challenge her, but she paid it no mind as she unloaded twenty-thousand pounds of armament on helpless tanks, fuel trucks and radio stations. Whatever hardware was left after her run was quickly abandoned as any surviving troops ran into the snow.

Her course back home should’ve been just as simple, a series of turnpoints on a map, confirmed by her satellite navigation and her hand map. But deep in the rocky peaks, someone had been waiting for her. Her radar had never classified what it was, but it was fast, closing rapidly on Vixen. She had seen it, and dodged its first shot with panicked luck. He’d watch her speed scream up and down as she dove away and wove around snowflakes trying to get clear. But it hunted her, missing barely with its second missile shot before scoring its deathblow with something else. Cipher could practically feel it now, the moment the FULLBACK shuddered against the impact and rocked onto its side before beginning its final spiral into the rocks, smashing belly-first into what was once a riverbed. It was a moment that never failed to choke him with his own heart and engorge the fire in his blood.

These thoughts still ran though his mind, even as recycled air pumped into his chest and the roar of thirty-thousand pounds of power pushed him through the black of the moonless night. At first, he didn’t want to take this mission, as blowing holes in a runway owned by a bunch of mercenaries and idiots didn’t thrill him. It was the location that made him take it, because this normally forgotten about strip was just on the edge of the mountain pass. Even something short range could have launched from here and waited for her in the nearby peaks, waiting to pounce on his Vixen. So maybe melting some concrete would at least steady his nerves so the Demon Lord could think.

“Eagle Eye to Galm One, we’re reading a huge uptick in radar activity! Multiple missile systems!”

“Copy. Galm One engaging.” It was the only response he had to offer his overwatch. And the only response that mattered. Though his heart began to rock his chest like the thud of a drum, it was not in fear that Cipher narrowed his eyes. It was in rage.

He saw the first missile coming to greet him before his Eagle did, and the Demon Lord spun belly to sky and fired in return. His aim was true and the foe that had tried to burn him down lit the ground around its crater like wildfire. Pushing past the sound barrier, Cipher lobbed another missile into the bulbous fuel towers near the runway and the entire valley was suddenly illuminated by a second sun.

The Eagle howled over the strip as he made his first pass at barely a dozen feet above rooftops, mauling hangers and fleeing trucks with cannon fire. Setting eyes on the control tower overlooking the carnage, he snapped his wings into a vertical rise and released one of the free-fall bombs into the main window. The flames ate effortlessly at equipment and man alike, with one poor soul tossed from the tower like a rag. Cipher watched the man fall without sympathy or pity, but only hoped that the fall killed him and not the burn of the destruction below.

His radar screen alerted him automatically to the approach of something from the air, but he’d paid it no mind until now, for the Eagle now saw its target as a pair of Belkan-built J-10/FIREBIRD. The smaller interceptors quickly moved to face him, one breaking away to try and pull the Demon Lord to expose his flank to either enemy.

Cipher smiled a predatory grin and kept his head-on course to the fool that now challenged him. Both jousters fired a missile within the same second, but where he bounced his Eagle higher into the air like a rock off the water to avoid the shot, his foe had attempted a simple bank away from the approaching death. Cipher caught the J-10 right at the throat and snapped it in two, leaving only metal rain to greet the ground below as he turned to face the other opponent. The smaller fighter had placed itself behind a line of hapless grunts who aimed their smaller shoulder-mounted missiles at the Demon Lord and fired, but Cipher pulled his Eagle into as tight a loop as it would manage, sending the defending shots effortlessly into the clouds. The second bomb that dropped from his wing was just as unforgiving as the first, landing square in the cluster of soldiers that were now trying to escape him.

Come on, you son of a bitch…show yourself to me! Just for a moment! I’ll burn your ashes into the snow for what you did to her! His mind raced as the second J-10 pulled into a its own tight turn to try and evade him. Stomping on the rudder pedal, the Eagle slid like a knife in the air and brought its teeth down on the supple spine of the FIREBIRD. Unspent fuel and ammo sent shards and flakes of his latest kill in every direction, and the Demon Lord rose away with ease.

Coming around again to align with the runway, Cipher let go his last two dumb bombs, the heaviest of the two he’d chosen for this mission. Punching through concrete and steel with ease, two volcanoes of dirt and stone bubbled under the ground before ripping the skin away from the ground, cracking the strip for dozens of feet in every direction. Only the central hanger remained standing now, sheltering what looked like a simple large transport. And if that massive bird stayed still, the Eagle may have overlooked it. Only when the lumbering mass began to pull out of the hanger did the Demon Lord set his sights on it. Maybe they thought he was expended, or maybe they were counting on its nature as unarmed prey to dissuade him, Cipher wasn’t sure. Nor did it matter.

“Attention, attacking aircraft! We surrender! Repeat, we surrender! Our plane is full of wounded and will not engage!” they called to him, the fear in the voice clear even through the static. And for a moment, he hesitated. All of this death, all the money this mission would bring him…and it meant nothing. The one thing he’d hoped for, the sole reason the Demon Lord had been summoned here, had not showed. Somewhere out there sat a pilot, man or woman, who now wore his beloved Vixen as simply another kill. Someone had dared to challenge the ruler of these skies by ripping his heart out.

Cipher offered them only one response, his missile smashing through the transport’s canopy and detonating somewhere in its belly. It shattered like paper from the blast, unsupported wings crashing down into the snow and rotting fire catching hold of the hanger the helpless target had emerged from.

 

The Eagle circled around one last time as the flames blotted out the stars above him.  He knew she never would’ve taken that shot, she was better than that. He knew that somewhere, far away from the carnage, the operators on the ground and aboard the AWACS that had seen him through thick and thin had just watched him carry out a massacre. It should’ve mattered to him…but it didn’t.

“AWACS Eagle Eye to the Demon Lord. I think you’ve just earned your reputation.”

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It’s been a long time since I visited one of my favorite pilots and his world. Usually, he is the hero, a Demon in name only out of respect or fear from his enemies. Never his friends.

But that’s not always the way he has to be.

I hope you all enjoy.

Task Force Flashburn

It was an idea born from time-tested tactics and private conversations while the main planners and generals conferred. Each representative had brought, in some capacity, their best minds to the quorum, allowing for the most expansive planning within the circle. It had been General Antilles that first raised the notion of the Rebel’s classic “hit and hype” operations, which would at least force their Imperial foe to raise the alert in places other than where the Joint Fleet planned to strike. And while the larger operation matured in the squabbles and egos of the leaders, their trusted few began the initial stages; forming Task Force Flashburn.

It was a quick and dirty assembly of ships with a single mission; take down the Imperial Trade Consortium at Valius IX and wipe out as much of the defending support as possible. This would force the Star Destroyer Hate’s Hammer to move further away from the Prash’guthali sector and hopefully, reduce the number losses the main force would sacrifice.

Unfortunately, as the Fleet rallied behind its newly unified banner, there wasn’t much each side was readily able to commit in just thirty-six hours.  The U.S.S. Diamante, having barely escaped the Utopia Planetia raid, led Starfleet’s banner. But the small Saber-class scout only had one partner in its colors, the older Miranda-class Khartoum.

The Klingons fared no better, with only one legacy K’tinga-class battlecruiser and three small B’rel-class Birds-of-Prey for the call. Though while the machines were often outclassed, their crews sung the songs of battle as heartily as any other warriors.

The New Republic summoned the most to Flashburn. One Nebulon-B frigate formed the center of the fleet, along with two CR90 fast-attack corvettes to maul opposing fighters, one GR-75 transport to haul the fuel and supplies everyone would need, as well as plunder anything that was of use. To cover them all, one squadron of A-wing interceptors shielded two lumbering Y-wing bomber squadrons.

And risking more than the rest of the group combined, the Cardassians had sent one of their few Galor-class cruisers to the call, which was still more than the Romulans pledged. But it would have to be enough. In five days’ time, Flashburn had a laundry list of appearances to make and Imperial war efforts to vaporize. At the end, everyone left would rejoin the Fleet at the heart of it all, and hopefully with resounding success.

The Trade Consortium itself shined above the icy blue gemstone that was Valius IX, with freighters of all sizes and trades coming to and fro. It’s main line of defense was an old Carrack-class light frigate and maybe two squadrons of TIE fighters, provided all of them were operational and on alert. These would be the first targets. Once those were burning in space, the bombers and Birds of Prey could dance between the hubs of the Consortium and melt whatever suited their fancy. The cruisers and battleships would dismantle the entire complex from one end to the other. By consensus calculations, the moment their approach was detected, Flashburn had at most ten minutes of play time before the Star Destroyer would appear and burn them all out of the stars. That didn’t leave much time for fancy tactics, so it had been decided to strike as a combined force.

As expected, the Imperial alarms began to scream barely a second before the entire Task Force emerged from light speeds. In a stroke of thankful luck, the Imperial frigate was moored and powered down while its crew lazed about the station and only four TIEs patrolled the incoming traffic. Diamante and the Birds of Prey immediately leapt ahead of the pack, with the A-wings screaming forward in pairs to wipe out any defensive cannon fire. Torpedo hit after torpedo hit liquefied the unshielded Carrack’s bridge and spine, while the interceptors danced effortlessly around panicked sentries. One of the CR90s also surged into the fray, shredding the TIEs as they came around.  A few of the merchantmen dared to fire back as well, which only served as marking them as dead men for the Klingons and Cardassians.

Diamante to Task Force. All defenses are down and the trade ships are fleeing or have surrendered. Focus fire on the trade platforms, and signal our transport to move to Docking Bay Theta-One-Seven. Looks like there’s some goodies there for the taking.” The scout reported as it came around to face parts of the burning station, cutting through vital points with ruby lightning.

Coronation copies. All fighters, form up and stay on alert. Any freighter that wants safe passage out of here comes with us. Hustle up, people. We’ve got about four minutes left to make our exit!”

As much as it pained them, Klingon honor did not permit them to fire at the helpless, even if they flew the enemy flag. But that didn’t stop them from weaving between the frightened merchants like daggers and popping a few more disruptor blasts over the bows of those running the wrong way. The Galor-class Talnash swooped in to take equal advantage of the chaos, beaming away anything that wasn’t nailed down or claimed, which would be welcomed by the Cardassian efforts.

Khartoum picked up the signal first. “Alert! Inbound subspace wave! Looks like a larger cruiser heading in, bearing two-six-six by one-three-eight, at our starboard plane!”

Immediately, everyone who was in or around the station rose away from the devastation to reform the group as their new challenge thundered in with cannons blazing. Thankfully, it was not Hate’s Hammer, but even the older Victory-class Star Destroyer packed equal firepower and Starfighters to the Task force. The more mobile starships and fighters scattered to make their individual runs, while the larger battlecruisers and frigates met it head-on. One of the Birds-of-Prey was snapped in half almost instantly as its attack path began.

Diamante put her belly to the Destroyer and fired as fast as it could, emptying its torpedoes into the larger ship’s belly. All around, the newly launched TIE fighters chased after the Y-wings, with one full squadron breaking away and carving a path of fire along the Cardassians’ bow. Try as it might, the Galor-class cruiser only picked off a third of the Imperial fighters before one of its engines detonated, shearing off the accompanying wing and leaving it easy prey for the Destroyer to pick apart.

Coronation kept its corvettes in close, Khartoum and the Klingon cruiser folding into the pack to defend. Turbolasers and disruptions matched slice for cut and pound for tear as the two sides battered away at each other. One of them had to give eventually, and the moment the Destroyer’s shields collapsed, the Diamante and the last Bird-of-Prey dove in from above and shattered the bridgetower of the Destroyer. The Imperial’s engines fluttered and winced before finally dying out.

And through all that, the collective countdown had been lost in the fray. Yet Hate’s Hammer never appeared, even as the Task Force escaped with their victory. And while bloodwine and whiskey were shared among the conquerors, report of their mission and losses still worried those on the front.

Flashburn still had a lot of mission left, and the fighter production factory that was their next target was not so easily destroyed.

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A pairing to go along with the master battle plan, because a feint has been a time-honored military strategy for centuries.

At least, when it works.

I hope you all enjoy.

10 Words

It was all over in one sentence; “If I wasn’t already with Chris, we’d definitely be together.”

In ten words, everything I had come to know and trust, and everything that I had been squashing under the gears of reality had been splayed open. For you, who had become my shade in the endless desert of my soul, had just offered me the most bountiful oasis. How I had longed for this moment! At last, I knew that the sputtering and gasping of a restarting heart had been heard and was even echoed in kind. You, dearest angel of mercy, were now made mortal by my desires, and were within my reach.

And all it would cost me was my morality.

In the moment, it would’ve been such a small thing to sacrifice for such a divine reward. How easy would it have been to tell you to abandon him, or even better, say nothing at all and take your lips in mine. Would this have startled you, and would you have pushed me away, forever destroying the budding companionship we had built? Or would fortune favor the brash and you share in the moment.

Would you have been worth the gamble? Absolutely.

The softness of your kiss against my own, I could only imagine was crafted carefully from clouds. The warmth of your skin in my hands would fuel a thousand suns. Would you be as demure as you were beautiful as we fell through the gates of embrace, or did you also restrain wild passions saved only for those most intimate moments? Oh, how I wished to know!

But most important of all in the moment, the beast that was caged behind the bars of honor was as enraged as it was vigorous.

How dare you tempt me with this moment?!

Who are you to test me with my greatest weakness?!

Who gave you the right to be so beautiful?!

Why can’t I simply jettison principal for passion?!

What sane man turns down reprieve from isolation?

The one who must face himself come the dawn.

Which left but one response, “He’s a lucky man. If he ever doubts that, you let me know.”

At that we laugh and carry on the evening, frozen treats and merriment well into the night until at last you depart into the starlight heavens from whence you came, and I continue my courseless drift through the void that was myself.

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So, usually, I’m not much of one for looking back on the past, good or bad. I sum it up with a line I take from Elfen Lied: “Regret is the privilege for those who have earned the right to look back on the past.”

But then, last night, came a dream of a time years ago. When faced when the choice of what could be, to what had to be. It was the right call in the end, but the fact this pops into my dreamscape now is…unnerving.

Regardless, I hope you all enjoy.