O2

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O2 - PATROL

On their second day of patrol Jerry Aspin and a human female named Debby Kelland were about five thousand miles from a radio observatory operated by the Organization of the Nations of Earth (ONE) at the second Earth-Moon Lagrange point, flying red and gray Sandwich Fighters. Deb was asleep. They flew close together, linked by a cable so they could talk without being overheard on the radio band, the same trick Lilith and Robyn once used.

What the hell, Deb...I just took a hit! A big ragged smoking bite was taken out of Jerry's top solar panel, and debris glittered around him like so many twinkling golden stars. Their ESM panels were lit up with symbols.

After a brief moment booting her brain back up, Debby swung her twin laser mount on its gimbal to lock on the offender. The target was a single insect-like dark brown fighter from Centauri. After few rounds expended on target she was rewarded with a satisfying bright ball of expanding gas where the fighter and its two pilots used to be. First blood went to Debby.

Now that they were under attack it didn't make sense to stay so close together on a cable, so they snapped the line and split apart a few miles. Meanwhile Jerry tried to raise his people on Selene, but no one answered.

Debby played around with her instruments for a bit. That thing is 600 feet long! It must be one of Belial's fleet carriers come out to play.

And I have more bad news, Debby. There's a whole swarm of Imperial bugs between here and Selene, fighters and shuttle-bombers all of them.

Okay, Jerry, I'll punch a hole for you right through the bastards. Look how tight they're bunched up. Honestly, doesn't the Empire know anything?

See you in the next life, Deb! And that was not a matter of idle hope.

Jerry and Debby had run into Squadron 21 from the Trespasser, which was about a dozen two-yeng fighters like the one that assaulted Jerry plus a handful of larger three-yeng bombers with their articulated insect heads that could send a flat, powerful lase in any direction. They had been spotted by lookouts scanning the space near the observatory and designated as tracks. Abaddon ordered Squadron 21 to hold station about a thousand miles nearer to Selene than the radio observatory to block any escape to there.

Debby came into range and the Emperor ordered Squadron 21 to fire at will. Deb was killed instantly in the hailstorm of energy that followed. But in- cluded in the debris field was one fully armed nuclear Brushfire-C missile. When the pile of expanding garbage that was the corpse of Debby's ship passed her attackers, at exactly that instant, the Brushfire detonated, destroying most of the planes, disabling all of the others, and clearing a neat hole for Jerry to escape through.

When the spherical fireball had grown to fill half of the sky and dimmed to invisibility Jerry dared to look again, and in hyz telescope hy saw the ellipsoid of the enemy carrier looming behind him ever closer. The ship was being escorted (or perhaps was escorting) a dozen or two smaller ships.

As hy neared the Moon Jerry found hymself entering various cones of Imperial jamming and hy understood at that point why hy had been unable to warn Taurus City of their danger. When hy got very close hy put hyz laser on low power and locked onto a solar panel on the city's roof to talk through the radio noise by modulating the light. This is Jerry flying Illustrious. I've been in a scrap, and Debby is gone. Prepare to receive me.

The play was a long shot but Robyn thought of this trick too, at the same time, simply by prognosticating Jerry's death and backtracking. A docking port slid open. Jerry entered a hollow space in the two-story ceiling structure that covered the entire city and brought his fighter to a rest.

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