As the last star fighter in Squadron 111, Midshipman Henry Gallant is on his way from Jupiter to the nearest space base in orbit around Mars.
With the United Earth fleet on the verge of annihilation from alien ships, he can expect no help.
In order to reach Mars, Gallant must make his way through the asteroid belt and threating aliens.
With so much uncertainty about the alien capabilities and intentions, analyzing the captured computer equipment in Gallant’s possession could prove crucial.
The fate of Earth could rest on the abilities of Midshipman Henry Gallant. Unfortunately, it is his abilities that have been much in doubt during his tour of duty.
In an era of genetic engineering, he is the only Natural (non-genetically enhanced) officer in the fleet. His classmates and superior officers have all expressed their concern that he will not be up to the demands of the space service.
Only bright and attractive junior officer Kelsey Mitchel has shown any sympathy for Gallant. Now as his astrogator on the last fighter in Squadron 111, her life as well as a good many others, depends of Henry Gallant.
“No need to be concerned, young man,” said the aged pilot of the tiny spacecraft as it left the space station. It was headed for the United Planet’s battle cruiser Repulse in orbit around Jupiter.
“I’m not worried about the storm,” said newly commissioned Midshipman Henry Gallant. He adjusted his uniform nervously, as he prepped to face his first duty assignment aboard Repulse.
A massive solar flare roared across the pockmarked face of the sun, producing static interference in every display console operating on the spacecraft. The pilot maneuvered expertly to minimize the worst effects of the x-rays and gamma radiation, until the craft made its tortured way from the sunlit brilliance into the cold black shadow of Repulse. The tiny ship quivered gently while its tractors reached out to the behemoth bulk of the warship slowly drawing alongside.
When it attached to the Repulse’s docking hatch, Gallant transferred to the warship and made his way to the bridge. He found the Officer of the Watch standing next to the empty captain’s chair surrounded by its nest of displays and virtual readouts. The officer rested his hand briefly on the panel concealing the Artificial Intelligence (AI) tactical analyzer.
“Midshipman Henry Gallant reporting aboard, sir,” he said, standing as tall as his seventeen-year-old gangly figure would allow. He tugged at his uniform blouse to straighten the buttons into proper alignment.
“Welcome aboard, Mister Gallant. I’m Lieutenant Mather. Please give me your comm pin.”
Mather was of average height, barrel-chested with sharp-angular facial features. Stoic, he showed little interest in the new arrival. Gallant handed over his comm pin and Mather made several quick selections on a touch screen console. He swiped the pin passed the chip reader which loaded the ID and personnel information into Repulse’s computer.
Gallant took the opportunity to look around the spacious semicircular compartment with its numerous apparatus and instruments. The captain's seat was centrally located and he noticed that many of the other chairs were also unoccupied.
Apparently some watch stations were only manned during conditions of higher alert.
He absorbed the scene, watching the ritual actions of the watch standers. The communication panel was manned by a midshipman who looked occupied with an incoming message. The radar station was also manned, but by a technician who was diligently studying his display. Gallant couldn't tell what he was tracking, but there were several blips on the scope.
The weapons and astrogator positions were vacant; several science analysis stations were operating automatically. To Gallant’s eye, the entire bridge watch seemed a model of efficiency and diligence, just as he had been trained to expect at the academy.
Soon his attention was captured by the huge view screen at the front of the compartment that revealed the gas giant Jupiter.
“Junior officer authorization, verified. The ID pin has been updated with Repulse’s access codes,” announced a computer’s voice emanating from a nearby speaker. It had a neutral soothing tone that reminded Gallant of a rather cold and distant teacher he had had in basic math years ago.
“Did you bring your personal gear aboard?” asked Mather.
“My duffle bag is forward at the docking port, sir.” The aged pilot had helped Gallant carry his gear from the craft through the airlock onto Repulse. He had given him a cheery smile and said, “Good luck,” as he departed. Having no family of his own, Gallant had found some faint comfort in these good wishes.
“I’ll have your gear sent to your quarters. For now, you had better see the captain,” Mather said as he flicked an eyebrow at Gallant.
“Aye aye, sir,” said Gallant.
Mather turned to one of the bridge’s junior officers, a young woman who wore a single thin gold stripe on her blouse sleeve indicating she was a Midshipman First Class, one year senior to Gallant. He ordered, “Midshipman Mitchel, take Mister Gallant to the captain’s cabin.”
As they left the bridge, Mitchel said, “Henry Gallant, I remember you from the academy. I’m surprised you’re still in uniform.”
Gallant grit his teeth, as he had done many times before when confronted with what he perceived as overt disapproval. He didn’t recognize her, but he couldn’t help observe that she was a pretty brunette with a trim figure.
“Will you be training as fighter pilot, or missile weapon’s officer?” she asked.
“I had basic fighter training on Mars and I will be taking advanced pilot training with Repulse’s Squadron 111.”
“I’m a qualified second seat astrogator in 111. Most likely, we’ll wind up flying together at some point.”
Since her demeanor displayed no indication that that state of affairs either repelled or appealed to her, Gallant merely nodded.
When they reached the captain’s cabin, she said, “I’m Kelsey by the way. Good luck.”
Gallant watched her walk away, wondering if the remark was sincere.