Jak Skinner is the new leader of Death's Head
squadron, a special forces starfighter unit. When
a member of his squadron dies in combat, Jak is
not only forced to deal with the guilt of his
friend's death, but the prospect of replacing him,
as well. Read this first installment in the
exciting new space opera serial - Starfighter.
Starfighter is serial, and is like a T.V. series -
in written form.
Starfighter, Season 1, Episode 1
by Chase Preston Davies
By Chase Preston Davies
Note from the author: First of all, thanks for reading. This book is part
of an experiment. From Star Trek to Stargate, I've loved a good science
fiction T.V. show for years. With the advent of e-book readers, I think
that we'll see more serialized fiction - almost like T.V. shows in book
form. That is my goal for Starfighter.
The starfighter hums softly, and the vibrations from the hangar bay
tractor beam shake me slightly in my seat. The ceiling of the hangar bay
speeds by me, becoming a blur as my starfighter is launched into space by
the beams. It feels like riding a giant slingshot, catapulting us forward
toward the enemy.
Abruptly, the hangar ends and I see the blackness of space and the tiny
dots of light that mark it. In front of me, I can see the Ghadaran ship -
the Carrier-class Urkala, just floating in space. They haven't had a
chance to launch any resistance yet. And at the speed we're travelling
towards them at, they probably won't.
Checking my scanner, I see that the launch has gone pretty well - my
squadron is all still in formation. That's a rare occurrence for a
beam-launch - usually something gets screwed up in the process, and
someone in the squad is launched late or early.
We're getting close, and so I send a command to my squad to fire up their
engines. The beam-launch is nice, but we'll become nothing more than large
missiles if we don't slow down before we get to the cruiser.
The inertial dampeners on the ship don't completely stop the jolt as my
reverse thrusters engage, and I'm thrown forward slightly in my seat. The
harness catches me, holding me in place and making my chest hurt. I'll
probably have a bruise - I usually get one when we beam-launch.
Our formation staggers slightly as the pilots in my squad engage their
reverse thrusters at varying times. A computer auto-pilot could solve the
problem, but could also get us killed if an unexpectedly quick bit of
resistance comes from the enemy. Better to get a little out of formation,
than to find yourself missing half a squadron because of a stupid
auto-pilot. I send the command over the comm for everyone to form
There are a couple muted replies, but mostly the confirmation that my
squad has heard me comes when I see the formation tightening up on my
We're only one hundred kilos from the Urkala now, and I point my ship
directly at our target - the fighter bay. We haven't seen any fighters
launching yet, and so there's still a chance we can get the bay before
they get out any resistance at all.
My hopes for a smooth run are crushed as Milt's voice comes over the
"Here they come," Milt says, and I confirm the statement on my scanners. A
small squadron of 4 has launched from the hangar. That was vexing fast, I
think to myself.
Thankfully, I see that the fighters are medium-build; I think that the
Ghadara call the model Skikmar. I have to recheck my scanners to make sure
I've seen that correctly - hoping it's my lucky day.
To my joy, I'm correct - the fighters are Skikmar-class.
It seems a rookie mistake, but then the Urkala is an offensive cruiser.
Its crew probably isn't used to defending itself. Or perhaps they have
something else in mind - I resolve to keep my guard up.
"Milt, Skarr, take them out," I say over the comm. "The rest of you, stay
in formation with me."
"Copy, squad leader," Milt replies.
"Already on my way," Skarr says. I can tell from his voice that he's happy
about the assignment. He should be. Vex, I'd have been happy with that
assignment too. However, I keep my fighter pointed towards the hangar bay
of the Urkala.
On my scanners I see that Milt and Skarr have already peeled off.
I'm now in range of the hangar bay.
"Fire at will," I tell my squad.
I obey my own command, and pick a spot at the top of the hangar opening.
Pushing forward slightly on the control levers, I tap the buttons on both
sides of the cockpit, firing missiles from both tubes.
Shiny objects explode out of the barrels on the front of my fighter,
orienting themselves to point at the rim of the hangar. I check my
reserves - I only have four missiles left in each tube. My small fighter
just isn't built to pack a large punch against a capital ship; it's meant
for dogfighting, and small combat. In fact, beam-launching a squadron of
small fighters against a capital ship seems crazy - but that's exactly why
it's so brilliant. I wish silently that I could use my beam weapons
instead - but a large ship like this is bound to have shields, and firing
beams will likely only waste precious time. I'll have to waste missiles
I see other missiles shoot past me as my squadron fires as well. They
quickly streak out of visual range, but I can still see them on my
An explosion flashes quickly in front of me as my missiles reach their
target. The flares die out fast as they run out of the oxygen contained in
Several more flashes line the hangar as my squad's missiles hit home.
Chunks of shattered metal drift off into space. There's the faint trace
of a gas emitting from the ship's wound, which my sensors tell me is
oxygen. It's not a very large leak, but it's big enough that it'll make
getting to the ships in the hangar difficult for the Ghadara inside the
I'm nearly to the hangar bay myself, and I fire one more double-volley of
missiles into the bay itself before I pull back on the stick.
My starfighter is quickly gaining altitude relative to the carrier. The
squadron has scattered - the formation has broken into individual attack
Down below the Urkala, Milt and Skarr are busy chasing the few enemy
fighters out on the field. I see that they've already managed to take one
of them down - my scanners only show three enemy ships left down there.
"Bombers launching," a voice from our command cruiser says over the comm.
"Get that hangar neutralized, Death's Head."
Vex! I hadn't realized that the bombers were launching so soon. I turn
hard to port, feeling the inertial pull that gets through the dampeners as
I do so. I plunge down towards the enemy cruiser.
I'm heading back at the damaged hangar when I see six more fighters launch
from the hangar. They're smaller fighters this time - no more of the bulky
Skikmars. These smaller ships are about the same size as the Flurry-class
fighter I'm in - they're the ships we've nicknamed "pinches". I ease up on
the controls a bit so that I come down behind them, instead of making
another strafe run on the hangar.
"New squad of six pinches," I say. "I'm going in - give what's left of the
hangar bay a good hammering while I'm at it."
A few members of my squad acknowledge. I barely here them - I'm too
focused on the fighters in front of me. I hit the engines hard, and I'm
pushed back in my seat as I rocket closer to the enemy fighters.
The fighters must see me on their sensors, because they quickly break
formation and scatter. I fire off a couple beam shots, but they miss,
tearing off into space before dissipating in the distance.
I swerve after one of the fighters. He's trying to shake me off with a
series of fancy maneuvers, but I'm able to keep with him on each one.
My engines can't do the same, however. He's able to get a little extra
speed on me - and even though I punch my thrusters for all they've got, I
can't keep up with the fighter.
I fire a couple more shots after him with my beam guns. One of the shots
is a near miss, and I curse under my breath, quiet enough that it isn't
broadcasted on the comm. If the vexing ship was just a little slower...
A beam streaks past me, and brings me back to reality. Out of reflex, I
instantly swerve away, checking my sensors. One of the pinches is behind
me. I have to feel a little grateful that the fighter I was following was
swerving all over - following him had probably just saved my life. The
maneuvers had made him hard to hit, but they'd made me hard to hit, too.
I pull back on the stick, and try to roll back around behind the fighter
tailing me. For once, the superior speed of the enemy ships is to my
advantage. I pull up behind the ship - he's tried to roll and follow me,
but he's going so fast that he can't keep up with the maneuver my slower
ship has executed.
He's not as tricky as his friend - I give a quick burst from my beams, and
his ship is cut in half. Five to go.
Two more pinches show up behind me. I kill my forwards and turn on my
reverse thrusters. The two pinches split to either side of me, swerving to
narrowly miss a collision with my suddenly slowed craft. I hit the
thrusters, and jet off after one of the fighters. I fire a beam at him,
which clips one of his wings, sending it spinning off into space. A second
beam shoots right through his hull, and I watch as his power goes dead on
The four remaining pinches are forming up, and are unfortunately some
distance from me. I swerve around to see what they're heading for, and I'm
a little horrified to find the answer.
Our bulky, Apocalypse-class bombers are heading towards the capital ship.
The pinches will be within firing range of them within a minute.
Even though I know I can't catch them, I frantically turn my ship around
and hit my thrusters to full, jetting after the small fighters.
"Bombers in trouble!" I shout over the comm, not bothering to issue a
specific command. At this point, I've lost track of my squad members, and
I know that issuing a specific command might interfere with something
important that I don't know about. However, I hope that some of the
members of my squad are free enough to deal with the threat.
"Copy, squad leader, I'm on it," Kinton's voice says on the comm. I
breathe a sigh of relief, but don't let up on my thrusters. I fire off a
couple beam shots, but the pinches are too far ahead of me for there to be
much chance of doing damage. Once they get far enough out, the beams
dissipate into non-lethal bursts of radiation.
There's a large flash of light to my right. I see that the flash has come
from the Urkala, and I instruct my viewscreen to give me a zoomed-in view
of the enemy ship. I hold myself back from cheering out loud when I see
that the hangar has collapsed in on itself - there won't be any more
fighters launching today.
"Hangar neutralized," Li says.
"Nice work, Li!" I say. Getting the hangar out of the way has just made
our job a whole lot easier.
However, there's still the pinches ahead of me, and I pull myself back to
reality. I know that I won't catch them, but I also know that Kinton will
likely need help once he reaches the fighters.
"Death's Head squadron, move to aid Kinton in defending those bombers," I
say over the comm. With the hangar destroyed, I'm much more confident that
giving a direct order won't screw anything up.
I check my scanner to find the locations of my squad members. Kinton is
the closest to the pinches; I estimate that he'll reach them in about ten
seconds. Milt and Skarr aren't too far behind him - they'll reach the
pinches probably five seconds after Kinton. Li, Smith, and Ivanov are a
little further away.
The pinches are about twenty seconds away from me, but their lead is
gaining since they're going faster. I swear under my breath. Those vexing
engines are killing us. Once this is all over, I'll request that an R&D
team try to salvage some of the wreckage, and see if they can reverse
engineer those thrusters.
Kinton reaches the pinches. My viewsreen zooms in on the action so that I
can see it. I also keep a close eye on my scanner, hoping that my estimate
about Milt and Skarr was accurate. Kinton's going to need some help.
Kinton fires a beam at the pinch squad leader, but the fighter swerves and
does and evasive barrel roll just in time. Several of the pinches return
fire at Kinton, and he's forced off course to try and avoid their fire.
"Come on, Kint," I whisper. One of the beams clips Kinton's wing, but it's
not bad enough to sever it. Three of the pinches peel off, leaving Kinton
and heading for the bombers.
Kinton swerves back up suddenly - he's crazy, flying straight into the
beam weapons of the pinches.
I see the flashes as two missiles launch out of Kinton's ship. Then
another flash, and two more fire.
A beam cuts Kinton's ship in half, and soon it's just a spiraling hunk of
debris. My breath catches as I realize he's dead.
Two of the missiles meet their targets, hitting the two pinches that
killed Kinton. There are two flashes of light, and they're gone - turned
into space dust.
Three more pinches, and our bombers are home free.
Kinton's other two missiles streak after two of the remaining pinches, and
I watch them on my scanner. The pinches they're locked onto scatter,
leaving only one still heading towards the bombers. The bombers will
probably be able to handle it, but we'll lose a couple in the process if
it comes to that.
I reorient myself for an intercept course with the leading pinch. The
missiles are still trailing the other two - one of them hits, scattering
pieces of the small fighter everywhere.
The other one is having more success avoiding his missile; he's pulling
some fancy maneuvers at varying speeds that the missile can't quite match.
The timer on the missile runs out, and it explodes without hitting its
I shout out a command for Li, Smith, and Ivanov to take out that pinch,
and order Milt and Skarr to join me on the other.
I'm only ten seconds out from the pinch now; its altered course has
enabled me to catch up to it a bit as it turned. Now that it isn't heading
directly away from me, I'm able to gain ground. Milt and Skarr are almost
there, but they're having trouble catching the pinch now.
Five seconds away. Milt and Skarr each fire several beams at the pinch,
but they fly wide. This pinch is good - he must be the squad leader.
Three seconds. The pinch is in range of the bombers, and fires a beam at
one. It's a good thing those small ships aren't equipped with any
warheads, or the bombers would already be shredded.
One second. The beam hits the bomber, and the craft rips apart, along with
its bays of precious warheads. If we lose too many more, we'll have to
abort the mission. Our capital ship is too small to engage the Urkala
I'm in range - barely. I fire off a beam, which clips of a portion of the
pinches wing off.
The pinch sees me, and instead of heading for another bomber, he heads
straight for me. The distance between us is closing fast, and I have to
dodge a beam from the pinch which makes my own beam fly wide.
The pinch hits his thrusters hard, corkscrewing upwards and turning back
towards me. I dip lower to avoid collision. Suddenly, the pinch is behind
me, and a beam takes off my right-side wing. I swerve up and to the left,
but my fighter is limping a bit after the hit. The pinch quickly comes
back up behind me, and scores a glancing blow on my hull as he rockets
My sensors go dead, and slowly, the systems in my cockpit deactivate. The
vexing fighter must've gotten in a lucky shot - my power is dead.
All I have left is my viewscreen, which luckily doesn't need power for me
to see through. Or perhaps unluckily, because I see that the pinch is
circling back around to finish me off.
With my sensors dead, I'm not sure how close Milt and Skarr are. I could
be a dead man. My heartrate picks up as I prepare to die.
My heightened senses cause me to jump as another ship flies right past me
in my viewscreen. I recognize the ship - it's one of ours.
Another ship flies by me, and I realize that Milt and Skarr must've
finally reached us.
A dogfight ensues in front of me - but the combined skill of Milt and
Skarr is too much for the pinch, and pretty soon he's nothing but a mess
Without the comm, I can't call for help, but I pull the lever to turn on
my emergency beacon. Hopefully, once the battle is over, someone will
notice me, and come to help. I tap my thumbs together, bored already,
since the fight has moved away from my viewscreen and I have nothing left
but open space to stare at.
It seems like it's been an eternity when the dug comes to tow me back to
our hangar. I breathe a sigh of relief - I've been having waking
nightmares about being stuck in the fighter, staring into space until I
lose my mind.
As my fighter is pulled, my angle changes, and I see the Urkala. It's torn
in several pieces - some parts of the ship still glow faintly, the
superheated metal not quite cool yet.
I guess we won.
I'm a little bummed that I missed out on the fight. Stupid pinch...if he
just hadn't tagged me quite that way...
Then I'd be dead, I realize. I got lucky - he hit me just right, so that
he neutralized me, but didn't kill me. It was a one in a million shot, and
I'm lucky to be alive.
It's good to see that we won in the end.
I remember that Kinton is dead, and I wonder if we lost any others while I
was floating. Every member of the squad is like a brother to me, and I
feel a painful pang in my chest as I replay Kinton's death in my head. I
can't help but feel like it's my fault - if I'd killed them in the first
It's not good to assign blame to myself, I know. Especially since it
really, genuinely isn't my fault. However, I can't completely shake the
feeling that I had something to do with it.
I know that if Kinton hadn't sacrificed himself like that, we'd have
failed the mission, and we'd likely all be dead - the Urkala would have
cut our command ship to dust, and we would have been stranded until our
air supply ran out.
I shudder. What an awful way to go.
I resolve to kill a few extra Syndicate ships on our next mission to make
up for Kinton's loss.
The tug reaches the station, and the tractor beams pull my damaged craft
into the hangar. I'm glided softly onto the hangar bay floor, but the
craft lands with a jolt anyway, since the landing gear can't deploy
without power. I press the button to open the cockpit hatch, and realize
with annoyance that the hatch uses power, too. There's no manual release,
so I lean back in my seat to wait for someone to cut me out, or hook power
up to my ship.
Several robotic vehicles come to my craft immediately, and begin
inspecting the damage to my vessel. I want to scream at the vexing things
to let me out of the ship, but I know that even their advanced auditory
sensors won't hear my voice through the thick cockpit glass.
Suddenly my gauges flare to life. There's power in my ship again, and I
punch the button for the landing gear. The ship raises itself off the
ground slowly as the landing gear deploys.
I punch the cockpit release, determined not to be trapped in the ship
again. It feels good to stand and stretch my legs. I've been in the ship
for hours, and so they're pretty achy.
There's a buzz in the hangar, and suddenly several members of Death's
Head come tearing through the bay. Milt, Skarr, and Smith come up to me.
They all look relieved.
"Stars, it's good to see you outta there," Skarr says. "Had to convince
command you were still livin' out there - home base thought you were dead
in the water."
"Not too far off," I say. "If that vexed pinch had hit me just a few
"Yeah," Skarr says. "Losin' Kinton was bad enough. Glad we didn't lose
you too, Jak."
"Thanks," I say. "Me too."
"Shank, man," Milt says. "Don't you scare us like that again."
"'Sright," Smith says. "Who's gonna lead us if you ain't around?"
"I'm sure you'd manage," I say. I can't help but smile though. After
being cooped up in that vexing fighter for hours, it's good to be back
with my squadmates.
"C'mon, Jak," Smith says. "Buy ya a drink."
"I'll take you up on that," I say with a smile.
Kinton's funeral is a solemn occasion. Since there are no remains,
there was no viewing. The attendance is small - just the six of us from
Death's Head, the carrier's captain, Oneeda, and a couple other pilots
that Kinton had known from his time before flying with us.
No words are spoken - the funeral just consists of five minutes of
silence. That's the way Kint wanted it.
This isn't the first funeral I've attended for a squadmate. However,
it's the first one I've attended since I was made the squadron leader of
Death's Head. I can't help but feel guilt at the passing of a member of my
squad. I can't help but wonder if there was something more I should have
done. I can't help but wonder if this should be my funeral instead of
There are no tears - my squad just stares ahead, each lost in our own
thoughts. The five minutes end, and the captain stands up to dismiss us.
It's a little strange, the abrupt ending to the short service, and it's
a moment before anyone stands. The first one to leave is a pilot outside
the squad - I don't know the man's name.
Another pilot from outside the squad stands and leaves. Oneeda
Soon it's just my squad. We're alone in the room - none of us have
moved much. We're still not talking, but I know that they're all thinking
just what I'm thinking.
In the Death's Head squadron, you never know who might be next.
"I have selected a small group of pilots for you to try out, Major,"
Admirial Hung says. I'm quickly finding that this is my least favorite
part of being a squadron leader - selecting someone to replace lost
"Thank you, sir," I say.
"You'll find," says the admiral, "that they're all excellent."
"I'm sure I will, sir," I say.
"Cheer up, Major," the admiral says. "We've all lost men before - it's
always a great loss, but you'll find that life will continue. Honor
Lieutenant Kinton by continuing the cause that he gave his life for."
"Yessir," I say. I salute the admiral, and turn to leave.
"And don't beat yourself up about the Lieutenant, either," the admiral
calls after me. I pause, and turn to face him.
"Yessir," I say.
"Dismissed," the admiral says, studying me for a moment more before
turning and busying himself with his console.
The door slides open, and I walk out it.
It turns out that the pilots in candidacy are waiting for me once I return
to the training module. There are ten of them.
The rest of my squad is there as well - they're all eying the candidates
distrustfully. I'm sure that several of them are upset that we're
replacing Kinton so quickly, but we don't have much of a choice. With the
new turn that the war has taken, there isn't much time before our next
strike assignment. I don't really relish the idea of going into battle
minus one squad member. Something like that could get more of my men
I know that they'll support my decision eventually, even if they don't
like the fact that we're replacing Kinton so quickly.
The pilots all look like seasoned veterans. They have a pretty large
range in age - the oldest looks well into his forties. The youngest looks
like he might be in his twenties, although I find it hard to believe that
the admiral would send me a pilot so young. Perhaps the man just looks
young - if not, there's not much chance that he'll make the spot.
"Alright, pilots," I say, meeting each one of their eyes. One of the men
looks away as our eyes meet. I make a mental note to eliminate him from
the running. "Death's Head is an extremely competitive squadron. There's
only one opening, and there's ten of you. That means nine of you will be
walking away from this disappointed. This testing process will be
rigorous, and will test the limits of your abilities and your endurance.
Anyone want to bail out now?"
No one speaks. I've expected as much - being a member of the Death's Head
squadron is the dream of most Confederate pilots. I wait a moment before
speaking again, seeing if the silence will pressure anyone's nerves to
"Alright then," I say. "The selection process begins now. Get to the
I'm pleased to see that the men scramble over one another in the direction
of the sims.
Hours into flight sims, I'm starting to get a picture of everyone's
abilities. A small part of me had hoped that this would be easy - that
there'd be a clear best out of the ten candidates, and that the selection
process would be relatively painless. No such luck. All of the pilots are
excellent fliers - and all of them have their weaknesses.
I've gotten a little bored watching the training exercises, and so I begin
flipping through the candidates' files. Not surprisingly, all of them have
spotless records. I'm surprised to find that I was right about the
youngest of them - he's only twenty-five. I'm even more surprised to
realize that I've just been watching the kid fly - and he's every bit as
good as the others. I wonder how he's gotten so good, so fast.
On the screen, the team takes down their main objective - a large cruiser,
about the size of one of our cruisers. I'm impressed - they've done it
fairly fast, and without any losses.
However, I know they won't get through the next sim so quickly - if they
get through it at all.
The candidates pile out of the sims. I smile as I see their excitement -
they're almost giddy, like new recruits straight out of flight school.
These guys clearly aren't used to flying with other pilots with skill.
They're probably all leaders of their own squads - I make a mental note to
watch for signs of arrogance or feelings of entitlement.
I walk over to the candidates, and wash the smile off of my face.
"Good," I said. "So you can fly a blue milk run without losing anyone."
I've understated their achievement - the sim they've just beaten was hard.
However, my statement has the intended effect, and I see that several of
the pilots have fire in their eyes. I make a note on my datapad about
those few - their anger is a mark against them.
In Death's Head, you have to be able to take criticism. In Death's Head,
taking criticism is sometimes the only thing that will keep you alive.
I'm a little surprised to see that the twenty-five year old isn't among
the angered. The candidate - his name is Johanssen, I think - has a look
of calm acceptance on his face. He's disappointed that I've criticized
their success, but he's not angry. Funny. I'd expected that a hotshot kid
like him would be full to the brim with ego. I look at the group for a
moment more before speaking.
"Alright, you've got twenty minutes," I say. "Then it's back in the sims -
you'll be up against a real challenge this time."
Worry crosses the faces of a couple of the men. They thought that the sim
I've just called a "blue milk run" was hard - what could I possibly be
cooking up next?
If they only knew.
As the men walk away, I smile after them in spite of myself.
About the Author:
Chase is an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, both for adults and
children. He's currently a student at Brigham Young University in Provo,
UT, where he's studying Computer Science.
Ever since Chase first watched Star Wars as a kid, he was hooked on space.
Some of his favorite authors include Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card,
Brandon Mull, J.K. Rowling, and Rick Riordan. However, Chase likes to read
pretty much anything he can get his hands on (including non-fiction!).
Chase currently lives in Utah Valley, Utah, with his school teacher wife.
Copyright © 2012 by Chase Preston Davies
All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.