Time again for another piece of short fiction inspired by everyone’s favorite Wendig, Chuck. This week’s challenge is to write a 1,000 word space opera. I’ve never written a space opera before, but I’ve had some ideas kicking around in my head recently, so I thought this would be a great excuse to trot some of them out. I think I came closer to “military sci-fi” than true “space opera” but you can be the judge. Because that’s what I do – I offer up my best ideas and most clever writing and ask everyone to pass judgement on me. I must have missed that day in high school where they talked about setting appropriate career goals. You think it’s too late to schedule a make-up day?
Everyone says that it’s too hard to sleep on a Catapult-class Heavy Bomber. The berths are practically carved out of the hull and offer no protection from enemy fire. Additionally, because of the lack of bulkheads, the vibrations from the engines are more intense than anywhere else on the ship.
But for Staff Sergeant Jimmy “Cricket” Murphy, there’s no better place to catch some shut eye. He figures if he’s going to die on a mission, there are worse ways to go than while he’s sleeping in his bunk. This is only his second mission as port waist gunner aboard the B-117 Cat’s Paw, but he’s already determined that sack time is definitely his favorite part of flying. He slips out of his pressure suit and hangs it up near his bunk in the tiny closet of a room he shares with the top waist gunner, Mitch. While one sleeps, the other stays on station. Now, it’s Jimmy’s turn to rest, and on a 180 hour flight it pays to sleep as much as possible in the first sixty, because you’re sure as shit not going to during the middle sixty.
He slips into his bed and the vibration from the engines instantly soothes his cramped muscles. The reassuring hum of power coursing through the craft as it speeds toward its target lulls him into a stupor. He presses a button to open the blast shield covering the view port that stretches the length of his bunk and it slides away soundlessly to reveal an endless sea of stars beyond the reinforced plastiglass. As Jimmy closes his eyes, he can feel himself floating on a gently purring cloud of invisible energy…
Jimmy is awake and out of bed by the end of the first klaxon. By the time the third “weee-up” has finished, he’s in his pressure suit and zipping up as he exits the cabin.
“Mission hour sixty-two,” Mitch says just before he climbs the ladder to his battle station. “They’re late this time!”
Jimmy grunts in response and pulls open the nearby airlock and climbs into the port waist turret. He straps himself in and flips a few switches to activate his weapons console. Power hums through the PD-MKIV Quad Laser Point Defense battery resting in front of him. He pulls the controls up and into the locked position near his chest and pushes his helmet’s faceplate into the zoom module. His view instantly changes from the blurred panorama of stars he could see from the turret’s plastiglass shell to a crystal clear enhanced vision of the space outside. At the default 2X zoom, he would be able to see the nearest Catapult, but since the Cat’s Paw had the dubious honor of flying on the outside of the formation, all he saw was empty space. Double lucky for Jimmy was that they were on the port side of the squadron. If enemy fighters came at them from that direction, he’d get to greet them first.
“You in, Cricket?” Tommy, the starboard waist gunner, queried over the comm.
“And you ready to Bitch Blast?” Tommy’s playful tone relaxed Jimmy’s adrenaline-fueled nerves. “Bitch Blasting” was Tommy’s euphemism for firing all four of the PD-MKIV’s laser cannons at once, a highly effective but dangerous technique. Tommy had given it the nickname after likening it to the seemingly simultaneous punches and kicks his wife gave him if he spent a night carousing.
“Clear comms,” Captain Shield’s voice broke in. “ECM jamming commencing… Here they come.”
Fighters and bombers could easily be shot to pieces by a capital ship’s targeting computer long before they ever got close, which was why all of them carried powerful ECM packages. As each side jammed each other what resulted was a confused, swirling knife fight in space, not unlike the air wars of the first half of the 20th century.
“Coming in two o’clock high heading five low!” Mitch’s voice calls out.
“Aw yeah! Bring ’em to me!” Tommy yells.
“Winged one! Passing on!”
“I got ’em…”
“Shit! Five o’clock high heading two low!” the top side tail gunner calls out. “Tommy, swing back around!”
The ship rocks and Cricket is thrown around in his seat. His comm link shrieks in his ear and then gives a high pitched whine that lasts for a couple of seconds before cutting out.
“Damage report!” the Captain yells. “I’ve got a hull breach starboard side that just got locked down! What happened?”
“It’s Tommy, sir,” Mitch says slowly.
“What? Damn it, be clear! What happened?”
“Sorry, sir. Direct hit. Starboard side waist turret. Both turret and gunner believed to be… destroyed.”
“Confirmed, sir,” adds the voice of the belly tail gunner. “I can see from here the entire turret is gone. The airlock must’ve held, though.”
“Alright,” the Captain replies. “Commencing roll. More communication, people!”
The ship rolls on its axis to keep the now weakened starboard side from being a fixed target for enemy fighters. This makes the fighters tougher to track, but the loss of Tommy and the realization that they are now going to be singled out scares the crew sharp.
“Cricket!” Mitch soon calls out. “Twelve passing probable nine!”
“Got it!” Jimmy does a quick calculation in his head and then swings his turret over to point straight up at his twelve o’clock position. He catches a glint of sunlight off metal, zooms in to 8X magnification and begins firing his cannons in succession. The first few beams miss the enemy, but the third one scores a gash along one wing. Just before the bogey passes out of his tracking arc, he triggers all four cannons at once and the fighter explodes in a brief but satisfying fireball.
In his mind, Cricket hears Tommy whoop “You got Bitch Blasted!” He smiles. Better to have that in his head than the echoing whine of a fried comm link.