Stories

Stars of Call

The handcuffs clicked till they were uncomfortably snug on Hawk Montgomery’s wrists. A brute squad of four men pushed him onto the transport feeling his resistance the entire way. They forced him down upon the aluminum seating and shackled him to the bulkhead. His captors sat opposite of him watching him with intensity. Hawk didn’t lunge as they had expected him to. No, he was saving up till the handcuffs and shackles came off.

A clean-shaven man near the age of Montgomery came to sit next to him holding a document pad nervously. He was dressed in military reds with his flight cap tucked neatly underneath his belt. Hawk tried not to acknowledge his presence by watching the entry ramp close just a few feet away. The uniformed man attempted to get his attention for several moments till Hawk looked him directly in the eyes. It was the look of a hunter finding its prey. The man shifted in his seat before speaking, “Hawk Montgomery?” He didn’t respond. “That is your name, is it not?”

The vibrations signaled the hovering systems had engaged. They were leaving. One of the larger of the brute force approached and stood before Hawk. “Answer the lieutenant!” The sergeant immediately backhanded Hawk.

His jaw burned from the strike. The young officer didn’t correct the man for his behavior. “Your name is Hawk Montgomery? Yes or No.”

The sergeant raised his hand for another strike. Hawk let out a scathing “Yes.”

He continued to stare intently at the burly man who has just hit him. “My name is Lieutenant Garrett. These are orders to bring you back aboard.” He motioned to the document pad in his hand.

“On what charges?” Hawk said with a low growl edged in his voice.

“Upon arrival you will be escorted to a maximum-security facility where you will await further information.”

When his question had not been answered he turned his attention to the officer. “What are the charges?”

The lieutenant was getting nervous. It showed by the way he shifted in his seat. Hawk wanted to leap from his seat and lay his fist into every single one of the men that surrounded him. Shackles–drat. He calmed himself even though he wasn’t getting the answer that he wanted. “I have the right to see the warrant for arrest PRIOR to being taken into custody. Now hand me that document pad!”

The officer hesitated to relinquish the pad. Hawk watched him stand up. He asked the sergeant to return to his seat. Hawk tried to get a glance at the pad, but his efforts were futile. Lieutenant Garrett stepped away. “Are you really going to violate regulations by withholding the warrant lieutenant?”

Hawk questioned in a non-threatening voice. He watched him lower his head and walk back to where Hawk was sitting. He laid the pad next to Hawk and walked to the cockpit without another word. The sergeants were talking back and forth keeping an eye on Hawk all the while. Hawk Montgomery looked down to the pad beside him looking for his answer. The pad was blank. There was no warrant.

A range of emotions ran through Montgomery in an instant. He couldn’t understand what was happening or why. His anger had him focused on the here and now but that focus disappeared after seeing the blank pad. Hawk’s eyes stayed locked on the pad and his mind tried to make sense out of this situation. The men seated across from him faded from his hearing. His thoughts filled his mind heavily. Several minutes had passed when the transport shuttle felt a nudge. The jar was enough to make Hawk look up. The four sergeants across from him stood up and positioned themselves around him. The clank of the returning lieutenant was heard behind them. On orders they unshackled him from the bulkhead but kept the handcuffs firmly on his wrists. He moved his hands over to the pad on the bench and picked it up. The burly sergeant forced him from his seat with a shove. The officer came around and hit a few buttons on the wall panel that lowered down the ramp. They disembarked from the transport walking into a cavernous hangar bay.

There were many similar transports in the hanger along with several work crews attached to them. A similar crew rushed by them heading toward the transport. They followed the flight line marking on the hangar floor till they reached a large double door that lead out of the hangar. Hawk went along with them without resistance. That didn’t stop the sergeant from keeping a hand on Hawk’s shoulder. Hawk kept a mental note of the directions back to the hangar just in case the opportunity arose where he might need that information. It only took a few minutes to reach the brig area. The corridors leading to the brig narrowed as they approached. The officer and two of the sergeants passed beyond an archway with a yellow sign commanding, “Authorized Personnel Only.”

When Hawk got to the archway, he dropped the pad. He came to an immediate halt to kneel to pick it up. The sergeant was walking at a quick pace and didn’t expect Hawk to stop. To his surprise, he tripped and went face first into the archway frame. The group ahead jerked their attention back to see the sergeant staggering backward. Hawk picked up the pad and murmured; “Now we’re even.”

A small trickle of blood was oozing down the sergeant’s forehead. He was about to strike Hawk when the lieutenant stopped him. The sergeant grumbled and pushed Hawk forward a little harder than he needed to. The archway led them to a corridor of holding cells. They led Hawk into a brightly lit cell. An armed sergeant stood guard while the others removed the handcuffs. They backed out of the cell and turned on the energy screen. The officer dismissed the sergeants leaving him and Hawk alone. Hawk rubbed his wrists where the handcuffs had left red impressions. The officer stood there in front of the screen not saying anything. Hawk lifted the pad toward the lieutenant, “Garrett, what is all this about?” His voice was calm and serious.

“You’ll have to wait for the general sir.”

Hawk lifted his brow when he was addressed as sir. He knew he wasn’t going to get anything from the lieutenant. He relaxed on the bench the best he could to wait for something to happen. Hawk didn’t have to wait long. The lieutenant’s boots clicked to attention. Hawk watched another man approach dressed in a similar red uniform. He stood up from the bench and walked toward the screen. A familiar voice dismissed the lieutenant, “Thank you lieutenant, I’ll take it from here.”

“Yes sir.” Garrett replied giving a nod before walking off. The older man stopped in front of the screen just like Garrett had done. The uniform was different, but he knew the face. It was his ex-commanding officer, Major Chris Jackson. By the stars on his shoulder Hawk reasoned that his rank had changed. Hawk lifted the pad toward the general, “CJ, what is all this about? I’ve been arrested, brought in, and I find out there is no warrant.” He swallowed, “This is illegal, and you know it.”

The officer nodded, “You’re right.”

Hawk watched him reach for the panel on the wall and turn off the screen.  “You really need to work on your hospitality skills, or don’t generals care about that anymore?”

Jackson grinned for a moment. “Before the pleasantries there’s something we need to discuss.”

Here was the answer and it was about time. Hawk found it humorous the only opportunity to escape was when he could get an answer. General Jackson entered the cell and stood next to Hawk. He motioned for the pad in Hawk’s hand. For an answer he gladly relinquished it. The general took a card from his belt and loaded its contents onto the blank pad. It gave a soft beep and text scrolled down the screen of the pad. “Hawk Montgomery, by order of her majesty Queen Katherine, you are here by recalled to active duty with all rank and privileges previously held. “

“What!” Hawk yelled out. He snatched the pad from the general’s hands and scanned it over. Hawk was furious. The general sat down on the bench and was immediately followed by Hawk.

“Hawk, I’m sorry. If I had sent you the message any other way you would have refused to come back. Not to mention quite possibly have taken out the messenger.”

The grip on the pad tightened. “The arrest was illegal. This recall is illegal too!”

“The arrest was the only way to bring you here. Somehow, I don’t think you would have come quietly. The recall however is completely legal.”

“No, it’s not! The branch my commission was in was disbanded. You can’t recall me into something that doesn’t exist!”

The general held a blank look on his face. Hawk was becoming more upset. General Jackson attempted to calm him down. “Listen, I’ll take it back to Command and see what they have to say. If what you say is true, then we can get a discharge processed fairly quickly.”

It didn’t mean the general wanted to. The words seemed to calm Hawk down. “Until then, like it or not, you’re a captain again.”

Hawk threw the pad against the opposite wall.

“The Royal Guard?” He questioned angrily.

The general nodded. “Damn it, CJ.” Hawk exhaled loudly.

“I know it’s not your Air Guard.” The general paused with the appearance of being distracted. “On that note, I have something you might be interested in seeing.”

“What?” Hawk’s voice remained displeased. The general put his hand on Hawk’s shoulder and looked into his eyes.

“Give me a chance, will you?”

Hawk was frustrated but there was wasn’t much he could do other than be pissed about it. He decided to go with the flow and see where it would take him. “You’ll look into the reactivation clause?”

The general promised he would. “Now, like I said. I’ve got something you might be interested in. You want to see it?”

Hawk let out another exasperated huff. “Sure.”

The general led Hawk across decks and through corridors to a pair of hangar doors. The doors opened to reveal a hangar of fighters. They made their way through the doors and turned the corner of the hangar where a ship was covered in a military grey tarp. General Jackson motioned to Hawk to take a glimpse beneath the tarp. Hawk looked toward the tarp-covered aircraft and back to the general. He nodded, walked over to the aircraft, and removed the tarp. He dropped the tarp and then his jaw. Hawk took a step back and looked to the general. He stood in front of a scarred Air Guard fighter. Closer inspection revealed Hawk’s name stenciled below the cockpit semi covered in black smudges. The general watched Hawk with entertainment when he circled the aircraft checking the authenticity of the call letters.

“This is my bird.” Hawk exclaimed rubbing his hand against the blackened airframe. The general walked up to Hawk. “Glad to see her?”

Hawk nodded, “I know she was decommissioned but I thought she was destroyed. But yes. It’s good to see her again.”

“Well, the flight teams needed a target for practice, and we happened to run across her in the scrap yards along with a few others.”

“Target practice?”

The general nodded. “Truth is my flight teams are having some troubles. I’ve lost 4 flight teams this week on a mission.”

Hawk didn’t hide his surprise. “What kind of mission?”

“Escort.”

Hawk retorted back, “And you lost 4 flights? Are you even teaching them to fly anymore?”

His comment made the general smirk. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”

Hawk nodded, “I hope so.”

He continued to look over his old ship. The general waited for a few minutes before broaching the subject. “I was rather hoping you might be able to help me out with this one.”

Hawk looked back at him. “Not giving me an order huh?”

“No, the mission has been deemed volunteer only.”

He nodded in response to the general’s words. “She doesn’t have to be target practice. Fly the mission and she’s yours.”

“An escort mission?”

General Chris Jackson confirmed his question. “Am I commanding the mission?”

The general smiled, “When don’t you?”

Hawk laughed momentarily before focusing back on the ship. Another few moments passed and Hawk hadn’t returned an answer. It was making the general unsettled. “Hawk?”

“Alright, three conditions. One. Restore my bird to flight ready status and I use her on the mission. Two. I’m not wearing that red garbage you call a uniform. Three. After the mission, I get my discharge papers.”

The general’s eyes enlarged for a moment. “That’s a tall order.”

Hawk shrugged, “Based on what you described, so is that mission.”

The general didn’t want to make that kind of deal but needed Hawk at the helm of the mission. He held his hand out toward Hawk, “Agreed.”

Hawk walked to him and shook his hand. “Agreed.”

“Briefing is 1300 hours tomorrow in this hangar’s flight room.”

Hawk acknowledged the general as he continued to give instructions. The general arranged for a work crew to bring the old fighter back to flight ready status. They left the hangar and made their way to Hawk’s assigned quarters. The general patted Hawk on the shoulder standing in front of his door. “Drink?”

Hawk looked at the door. “It’s been a long day CJ and a lot happened. I’m going to have to pass.”

The General nodded and didn’t take offense. Hawk took the recall better than he thought he would. The following morning went by quickly. After shaking off the feeling of disbelief, he attended mess hall and procured a flight suit for the mission briefing.  He visited his ship to see how the work crews were coming along. To his surprise the work crew was no longer in the hangar bay and the tarp had been placed back on the ship. Hawk removed the tarp revealing a spotless aircraft. “Wow.” He remarked.

The fighter looked just as it did when it was in service. His name had been re-stenciled just below the cockpit. He certainly didn’t like how he was brought back but seeing the ship almost made it worth it. He climbed into the cockpit and did a diagnostic check to see if the systems were as clean as the ship. They were. He reminisced about previous missions and his old team. Reality forced him back to the present. It was the same pilot, the same ship but the mission and team were different. Time was ticking so he made his way to the hangar’s briefing room. Hawk was a few minutes early but there was nothing new about that.

It wasn’t long before personnel entered the room wearing flight suits. The air of awkwardness was instantly felt. The lieutenants that surrounded him spoke in whispered words amongst themselves. Boots clicked as they rose to attention when the general entered the room. “Be seated gentlemen.” The general took up position behind the podium as everyone sat back in the chairs. Hawk listened patiently awaiting the orders he semi volunteered for.

“As all of you know this is a volunteer mission. Thus far we have lost four flights to this mission already. Before I go any further do any of you wish to reconsider?”

Hawk looked around the room to see if anyone would take him up on the offer. No one did. “You five pilots are the only ones left who will consider flying this mission. The performance of you five will determine if this mission succeeds or not.” The general looked down to the podium and back up to the room. “Now, the mission.” He braced himself before speaking. “One of our decoy cruisers has become disabled in enemy space. It was on a recon mission posing as an enemy diplomatic envoy. We cannot allow the enemy to discover that the envoy is a fake. You five will jump into enemy space and tow the vessel safely into Royal airspace where we will have a tow ship waiting to transport it back the rest of the way. Captain Montgomery is the flight leader for this mission. Does anyone have any questions?”

The room was silent. Hawk was handed a document pad from off the podium. “These contain your coordinates and rendezvous points.”

Hawk nodded to the general.

“No questions?” The general inquired again. Once more the room was silent. “Very well. Good luck gentlemen, dismissed.”

The group of officers stood up as the general left the room. The lieutenants turned to Hawk and introduced themselves. After the pleasantries they dispersed into the hangar. Flight crews were already waiting on them to board the ships for flight checks.  In choreographed movements the flight checks and launches were executed. The fighters took up positions just outside of the carrier’s flight path. It took a few moments to get comfortable in the cockpit again. After a couple of minutes, he took his cues from the pad in his lap. Hawk opened the communications channel; “I’m sending the coordinates to your navigational computers. We’ll get to a safe distance and jump to neutral territory. Once there we’ll head for the coordinates on stealth.”

The rest of the team acknowledged the orders and took to his lead. The flight taxied away from the carrier and jumped into space. It would only take them two hours to reach neutral space. The gentle vibrations of space travel brought a smile to Hawk’s face as it conjured up old memories again. He didn’t care for the colors he was flying under but despite that he enjoyed being at the helm of his old fighter. His computer console beeped in front of him alerting him of approach to their destination. He signaled to the others and dropped out of jump. His nerves heightened as they passed from neutral territory to enemy space. Hawk engaged his defensive systems to be preemptive.

Four flights were lost in previous missions, so he knew this wasn’t going to be what he expected. The flight wasn’t as tight as he wanted but he could tell that these pilots had at least flown before. There had been only a few times Hawk had ventured into enemy space. A little more than half of them turned out disastrous. Even with this mission’s track record he was trying to be optimistic. Hawk scanned the skies around him looking for the disabled diplomatic transport. He turned off his running lights to avoid visual detection, but technology could still see him. His flight followed behind him and dropped their lights.

After almost 30 minutes of scouting the coordinates provided, they located the transport drifting in space. The running lights were still active. That meant it had power. A flyby revealed the engine was heavily damaged and the vessel had a good amount of scarring from attacks to its hull. Hawk felt a knot in the bottom of his stomach. He tried to reason why but couldn’t. “Michaels, Phillips, and Smith. Tag the transport with the grapple and begin rescue operations. Andrews and I will provide cover. Execute.”

The flights formation split off and got in positions as ordered. “Why would the enemy attack the transport and just leave it out here disabled?” He asked himself as he watched the three fighters attach grapples to the transport. It would certainly be a deadly trap for the Royal Guard; previous missions could attest to that. There had to be more to it, but he just didn’t know what. The fighters fired their engines. They creaked with the strain but slowly began to move the transport. Andrews and Hawk watched the skies for movement. They expected fighters to fly out of nowhere. It wasn’t nowhere from where they came, it was the transport. The cargo bays of the transport opened letting a swarm of fighters into the open space. It took them both by surprise.

“We’ve got company. Hurry it up.” Andrews remarked over the comm. channel breaking the communications silence.

Andrews began to engage the enemy fighters with a stream of cover fire. Hawk wasn’t so gung-ho. He paused before engaging to see what formations they flew in. He wanted to judge how their attacks would come down before he was too far buried in them. The attacks were focused on the tow cables rather than the fighters. Over the ship-to-ship Hawk barked an order to Andrews, “Take out their engines and weapons only. Do not attempt a kill.”

“What!” Andrews’ voice reverberated into Hawk’s cockpit.

A tow cable was shredded in a plume of sparks before their eyes. The fighter attached to the severed cable was launched away from the other two. Hawk and Andrews tried to deter the swarm of fighters around them. The two remaining fighters managed to get a few shots in at incoming ships in their flight path. Andrews didn’t obey Hawk’s order; he was shooting to kill. Andrews plowed into the swarm shooting wherever he could. Explosions were everywhere. The third tow ship returned to take up position again. The tow cable again gripped the transport and helped move it along. Hawk could see the enemy fighters were crowding around Andrews. Hawk knew he was going to be in trouble if he didn’t help. He took extra care to only disable the enemy fighters. If they had wanted to, they could have taken out the three tow ships, but they didn’t, they wanted to stop the tow. Their actions were defensive not offensive.

“Andrews! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Hawk didn’t get a response back. The enemy took the opportunity of Hawk backing up his partner to take out the tow cables. One by one the tow cables were broken by plasma fire. One of the last shots took more than the cable, one of the tow ships exploded. The tow team signaled they had a man down. Hawk had to leave Andrews to his own flight skills. He had left the tow ships and the mission in jeopardy. When Hawk got back into position, he discovered that one tow ship had used up its entire towline from the attacks. Hawk was beginning to think that the mission was a failure. He ordered the fighter to help Andrews as he himself launched a towline to the transport. He fired his engines to full to pull the transport. His ship creaked around him. Explosions of enemy aircraft continued to fill the skies around him. “Damn it, Andrews! Disable them only.”

“So, they can take potshots at us? I don’t think so.”

If Hawk could fire on him, he would just for disobeying him. They were going to have a serious chat if they make it back in one piece. Before the other fighter could reach Andrews’ position, his ship exploded in a large fireball. Andrews was gone. The casualty was reported over the ship-to-ship. Hawk exhaled in frustration and sadness. “Alright team let’s get close knit. There are 3 of us left and I don’t want to lose anymore.”

A strange voice came over the ship-to-ship following Hawk’s remarks. “I’m pleased to hear that pilot. If you look outside around you, you’ll find that you’re surrounded. If you disengage the remaining tow cables and leave our space, no further harm will become you. Otherwise we’ll be obliged to fire on your position.”

“Who is this?” Hawk looked around him as if to see the person who was talking.

“My name is Captain Richard Bedford of the diplomatic transport H.M.S. Milledge. May I have the pleasure of knowing whom I am addressing?”

“Captain Hawk Montgomery.”

“Captain, you have attempted to commandeer my vessel and I don’t take that lightly. This is your only warning. Think of this as professional courtesy.”

The H.M.S. Milledge wasn’t Royal Guard property. They sent over 4 flights after a disabled vessel that wasn’t theirs. Hawk was furious. He knew not to let his anger come through over the ship-to-ship. “Captain Bedford, thank you for the courtesy. We’ll proceed out of your space immediately. I’m sorry for the unnecessary casualties.”

“The sentiment is shared.”

Hawk directed his orders to his team as he released his tow cable. “Team disengage tow cables and head for home. That’s an order.”

Confirmations were heard over the ship-to-ship followed with the release of tow cables. The remaining ships of the flight fired their engines and moved out of the area. Hawk checked the pad he was given for rendezvous coordinates. He sent them to the other two ships. Moments later they jumped into space headed for home. The flight home was quiet. The only thing talking was their thoughts.

After the debriefing, Hawk met privately with the general. “CJ, you have my papers?” He wanted to knock him right to the floor but held himself back.

The general nodded handing him a pad. “I wish the mission had been a success but you’re free to go. Clerical error on our part.”

Hawk took the pad and reviewed it to make sure it wasn’t blank. It contained the discharge notice. He nodded, “About the mission.”

The general nodded back for him to continue. “You knew, didn’t you?”

“Knew what?”

“That wasn’t a Royal Guard transport. It was theirs.”

The general gave a combined smirk and huff. “Yes.”

Hawk dropped the pad on the general’s desk and grabbed him by his tunic. “You bastard!”

Hawk threw a punch but was blocked by the general. A brawl ensued in the middle of the office. Furniture and document pads were knocked into disarray. The fight continued until the general pulled a personal plasma gun out on Hawk. Hawk got off him and stood up.

The general stood up and straightened his uniform. “Get out of my office before I have you arrested.”

Hawk grabbed his discharge pad and left, “My pleasure.”

He hurried to his ship ready to put distance between him and the place that surrounded him. He taxied away from the ship and jumped toward home. Thinking over the past couple days he could only remark, “No more reunions for me.”

THE END

Any Thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.