Prologue
Taking the Bullet
Location:
Near Oakes ONB, Jovian Sphere
Date: Fri 15 Jul 113
Time: UST 1027

Lieutenant Frazier lined up the breach in the Shelly destroyer's hull and emptied his missile tubes. He swung around in a wide arc to get clear and observe his handiwork all at once. He must have hit a magazine or something because the explosion was much bigger than any two Starbeams, tearing the destroyer in two.
"Direct hit! We got 'em, Hellfire Four!"
When Lieutenant Galil didn't respond, Frazier tried to hail him again.
"Hellfire Four?"
He then asked his NFO Ensign Benishek, "Checkers, you got a reading on Hellfire Four?"
"Let me check..."
There was a momentary pause before Benishek came back with an answer.
"I got nothin'. I think he's dusted."
"Dammit," Lieutenant Frazier muttered under his breath. He then tried to hail Ensign McLachlan, the other pilot in their flight. "Hellfire One-Zero, this is Hellfire Seven. You still with me?"
"Alive and kicking, Hellfire Seven," Ensign McLachlan replied.
As the senior of the two pilots, it fell to Lieutenant Frazier to call it in to Commander Consalves.
"Hellfire One, this is Hellfire Seven. We lost Hellfire Four."
"Acknowledged, Hellfire Seven," Commander Consalves replied.
Lieutenant Frazier didn't get to dwell on the loss of his flight leader long.
"We got more bandits comin' in," Benishek said. "Pattern says Cobras."
Cobras would be tough to beat. They weren't as maneuverable as the more common Vipers and that might be what saved them. Still, they had thick hides and Lieutenant Frazier didn't have much left in his loadout that packed much of a punch.
One of the operators from Oakes came on the line and said, "Return to base, Hellfires."
As much as Lieutenant Frazier didn't like the thought of tangling with those Cobras, he liked the thought of bugging out now even less.
"Oakes, this Hellfire Seven," he said. "We still have bandits. Over."
"You're not equipped to take on those bandits," the operator replied. "I say again, return to base."
Even though the pilot's radar screen in a Wakizashi wasn't as in-depth as the NFO's, Lieutenant Frazier could still see that there was no one to take over for them once they withdrew.
"We don't have any fighter cover here," he told the operator. "SAR's still evacuating the Juzumaru."
"Return to base, Hellfire Seven. That's an order."
The operator was more forceful this time, but Lieutenant Frazier couldn't leave SAR and the survivors of the Juzumaru undefended while he retreated to the safety of Oakes.
"Cuda, we should be headin' back," Benishek said.
"I can't leave 'em like this. We'll try to draw off any Cobras that come this way until some fighters get here or SAR gets out."
"You're gonna get us killed."
"C'mon, Checkers, it's me."
Benishek only groaned, just barely loud enough for the mic to pick it up.
There were two formations of Cobras inbound, seven and seven. Ensign McLachlan had already pulled out, so it was just the one Wakizashi standing between the Juzumaru and fourteen Cobras.
"If you wanna be reconsiderin', Cuda, now's the time," Benishek said.
"We got this, Checkers."
"We're outta missiles. No way we can take any of 'em down."
"We don't need to take 'em down. We just gotta distract 'em for a bit."
The Cobras were set in their attack vector, so freedom of movement was on Lieutenant Frazier's side. He began by getting under them and peppering a couple on their ventrals, but they didn't rise to the bait. It took three loops harassing them before a couple finally broke off to pursue him. Now he could hopefully catch the Cobras in some crossfire.
There was no point in taking on his pursuers directly. He kept on harassing the main formations, dodging the fire from the Cobras on his tail as best he could. A few more passes and three more Cobras broke off. Now they were coming at him from multiple attack vectors. Things were starting to get dicey.
"Cuda, I know you're good, but you aren't this good," Benishek said. "We've done what we could. We need to get outta here."
"Just a little bit more, Checkers," Lieutenant Frazier said. "We can do this. Just a little more time."
"We've got missile lock! Inbound!"
The trick with Shelly missiles when you run out of countermeasures is to lead them on until they're about a second from impact and make a sharp evasive movement. Usually it would be enough to break the missile's lock and it worked this time as well.
Lieutenant Frazier dodged the missile, but he didn't dodge the disruptor blast from another Cobra. All the screens in the cockpit went black. It was every pilot's nightmare.
"Checkers, get us back online!" Lieutenant Frazier shouted.
There wasn't much Lieutenant Frazier could do but pray none of those Cobras lined up a shot before Benishek could restore power. If you were lucky, a reboot of the system could have you going again in ten to twenty seconds. Only in combat, ten to twenty seconds was plenty of time for the enemy to kill you.
"We're back up, Cuda!"
As soon as the screen came up, there was a missile lock warning. The missile was already loose and just a couple seconds from impact. By the time Lieutenant Frazier could gun the engines, they'd already be dead.
Only they didn't die.
One of the SAR Pelicans flew between Lieutenant Frazier's Wakizashi and the missile and took the hit for them. Acting more on reflex than conscious though, Lieutenant Frazier rolled out of the way of the Pelican and lined up a shot on the Cobra, catching it just as it was firing off a second missile. He managed to hit the missile close to the Cobra and the resulting explosion tore away its shields. Thick-skinned or not, the Cobra couldn't hold up to several well-placed particle blasts.
"Bingo!"
Just in time, a couple flights of fighter came into the area and started to engage the remaining Cobras.
"Hellfire Seven, this Crossbones One. We'll take it from here. Return to base."
"Copy that, Crossbones One."
Before that, though, Lieutenant Frazier wanted to check on the Pelican that put itself in the line of fire to save them.
"Checkers, what's the callsign on that Pelican?" he asked Benishek.
"Uh, let me see... Grace Three."
"Grace Three, this is Hellfire Four. Are you alright?"
He didn't get anything, so he tried again.
"Grace Three, respond."
Still nothing.
"Looks like the rescuers are in need a' rescuin', Cuda," Benishek said.
"Yeah, but they sure saved our asses, though."
What kind of pilot would jump in front of a missile with a repurposed cargo ship? It wasn't like any Tweety he'd ever heard of. Lieutenant Frazier was alive thanks to that pilot, whoever he was, but after a stunt like that, he probably wouldn't ever fly again.