“Truth or dare,” my wingman says through our encrypted transceiver.
Great. We’re 310 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean, and he wants to play a kids’ party game. Okay, so our Kestrels are the most advanced Orbital Interceptors in the Western arsenal; it’s not like all this technology makes the routine patrol any more exciting. “Truth,” I reply. I learned a long time ago to never take dares from Percy.
“Aw; I had the perfect dare for you, too.”
“Would it have anything to do with those new dancers down at the Circle Two Club?”
He laughs. “You know me too well. Okay, so the truth then. Do you really believe all that stuff?”
“You know, all that praying before a mission and Jesus stuff.”
“Yeah, Perce; I really believe it.” We make a ninety degree turn to the south. We’re under strict orders to not enter Eastern Space. I check my display; there’s a pair of Eastern Basilisks on the other side of the boundary, shadowing our course.
“We got company,” Percy says.
“I’m tracking them; looks like they’re just making sure we stay on our side of the boundary.”
“Not them; I’ve got faint traces of four fast moving bogeys approaching on two different vectors.”
“None; I’m just barely keeping track on them. Refine your tracking to seven-theta, and they should show up for you.”
I cue my tracking processor, and sure enough; four traces have just crossed the boundary, headed right for us. “Counter measures and evasive,” I order. Everything has just changed. Our boring patrol is now a level two engagement.
“Command is scrambling the 197th. We’ll have back-up on station shortly.”
We’re changing altitude and vector, but even with our counter-measures activated, the four bogeys are closing on us. “Safeties off, Perce.” The East may just want to rattle sabers a little, but if so, they’re not going to find our sabers in the sheath.
“I got visual. What are those things?”
“They’re not Basilisks, and they’re jamming our link to Command.” I launch the Autonomous Microdrone to record as much intelligence information as it can before it speeds back to Command. No one has ever managed to shoot down a Microdrone.
“Weapons launch!” Percy yells, at the same moment the alarm sounds. For the first time in almost twenty years, we have a level one engagement.
We cut a high-gee turn, and the missile detonates on one of my decoys. Whatever these things are, we’re not out-maneuvering them. “Have you got any weapons lock?”
“Nothing; I can see them, but for fire control, it’s like they’re not even there.” He’s still yelling.
I’m praying, and despite how bleak things look, I feel a strange calmness. “You know what you asked before, Perce? Yeah, I really believe.” No matter what contortions I put my Kestrel through, the two bogeys on my tail continue to close.
“I can’t get a firing solution,” he says, and then swears.
“I’ve got one,” I say. “Hey, Perce; truth or dare.”
“Truth or dare, Perce.”
“Fine. Give me a dare.”
I throttle back my engine. “I dare you to face your fears.” I yank back on the control and flip end for end. Now, I’m flying backwards and looking directly at the bogeys. The twenty-millimeter rounds erupt from the cannon and rip one of the enemy craft wide open. “I dare you to pick up a Bible when you get back and face the reality of God.”
He tries the same move, but the bogeys are ready for it now. “You want to talk religion now?”
I advance the throttle and work on getting into position for another shot. “No time like the present.”
“Okay; if I get out of this alive, I’ll pick up a Bible.” He fires his cannon, and the rounds sweep wide.
The alarm is screaming, and my display shows three missiles gaining on me. I put the Kestrel through everything she has, and two of the missiles veer off after the decoys. The third explodes right next to my tail. “I’m hit,” I say, as though it’s just a game.
The escape pod is jammed, and what’s left of my interceptor is falling towards the Pacific, even as I see fifteen more Kestrels arrive. “Truth, Perce; I really believe. Keep the dare.”
I know he will. He’s funny that way.
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