Chapter 28
The Young Lion
Location:
Near Mars, Martian Sphere
Date: Thu 20 Nov 122
Time: UST 2317

GOLGOTHA IS GREEN.
The words on the screen of Commander Joachim's red terminal told him everything he needed to know. This was it. It was time to go.
He dialed up Aswani, Singh and Cussell all at once. When they came onscreen, he said, "Assemble the squadron. Golgotha is green."
"Aye-aye, sir."
The Tigerhawks were split among Hangars One, Two and Three. While it required extra security to be divided like that, it also prevented the whole squadron from being targeted at once.
After he was all suited up, the Commander made his way to his Tigerhawk. He glanced over to his NFO, Lieutenant Chardonnet and asked him, "You ready to become an unsung hero?"
"Uh, ah, yes, sir," Chardonnet mumbled.
"I need you to be focused out there, Chardonnet," Commander Joachim said. "This is the big one."
"Aye-aye, sir."
Perhaps it was only natural that a mission of this importance would have Chardonnet a little off his game. The Commander could only hope that once they were out in the thick of it, his training would take over and there would be no problems. If worse came to worst, he could always lock out Chardonnet and solo it, but managing all the Tigerhawk's systems while flying would tax his abilities to the limit and greatly increase the odds of failing the mission. It was a risk he would rather not take.
Entering the hangar, the two headed over to their Tigerhawk.
"How's she doing?" Commander Joachim asked.
"All systems green, sir," the crew chief replied. "She's good to go."
"Then let's get going."
Commander Joachim and Lieutenant Chardonnet climbed the ladders into the cockpit and they quickly ran through the pre-flight checklist. Once that was done, the Commander delivered the final salute to the crew and while they were being taxied to the flight line, he contacted the rest of the squadron over the radio.
"All units, this is Silent One. Proceed to mission objective. Happy hunting, gentlemen. Radio silence on takeoff. Out."
Commander Joachim did not have to wait long before he was given the green light to take off. While conventional pilots had difficulty during the training program adapting to the Tigerhawk's passive sensors, they were quite familiar to the Commander, who had flown custom ships with more primitive forms of the Tigerhawk's cloaking. If the Shellies held radio silence and refrained from active scanning, they would be completely invisible save perhaps to the naked eye, which cannot be relied on much when traveling at 300kps. That was three times the normal engagement speed, but the objective was to strike faster than the target could react even if cloaking failed. With the air as thick as it was, the risk of collision with other objects was high, but that was why only the best of the best were selected to fly the Tigerhawks.
The mission planners had not been idle between the time Operation Golgotha was announced and its execution. The signals coming from the Hades had been thoroughly processed to create a distinct signature for the Tigerhawks to follow using the passive sensors. If everything went according to plan, it would all be over within ten minutes.
They were closing in. In order to avoid using the radio to communicate from one end of the cockpit to the other, Tigerhawk crews had a direct wired connection between the pilot and NFO. Otherwise Commander Joachim would have had to resort to hand signals to communicate. This was much easier.
"Get ready, Chardonnet," he said. "We're coming up on the target. Begin target acquisition on my mark."
All of the sudden, alarms blared and red lights flashed. The Commander's HUD filled with warnings of "ACTIVE CLOAKING OFF" and "MISSILE LOCK".
"Chardonnet! What the hell are you doing!?"
"I'm sorry, sir, but the nightmare doesn't end."
A shot rang out and Commander Joachim's head jerked to the side as a bullet cut through his helmet and grazed his temple. Before Chardonnet could get off another round, the Commander, pulled the emergency override and ejected him from the cockpit. Perhaps it would have made more sense to eject himself, but he swore to himself that he would never be taken captive again.
Even though he went into the mission with every intention of succeeding, he had a plan in place in case he failed. Although he had arranged for his contingency plan to activate the moment his lifesigns were lost, he still had the time to activate it manually. He just hoped there were still Tigerhawks left to make it work.
The bullet that was meant to kill him was going to succeed in a roundabout way. His controls were locked and even if he could outfly the coming firestorm, there was no way he could do so now. The best he could do was unload everything he had in the mere seconds he had left, all the while chanting in a low voice, "Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Ehad."