â€œIn war, there are no unwounded soldiers.â€
Black ash fell like snow over the outskirts of the burning alien city. Sean Kerning stood in a field several kilometers from now devastated ruins as the product of his work drifted down to settle on his shoulders. Even at a distance, the pilot could feel the heat and intensity of the flames. He could also hear the screams of the city's citizens. Gone was the sun, blocked by the thick clouds of ash; the only light was that given off by the fires.
He stood in apathy as he watched the black clouds rise above the skyline. Casually he looked on as millions died and as their bodies fed the growing flames. He stood knowing that in front of him now people who had done nothing against him personally perish without any reason given to them.
Sean looked up and squinted his eyes at the black snow. Ash was beginning to collect in his brown hair. He closed his eyes for a bit longer than a standard blink and when he opened them again he was lying atop his bed on the starship UTR Paragaul. Moments later a chime sounded from his personal comm device.
â€œMajor Kerning, you are needed in the briefing room,â€ said a message as it scrolled across the semi-transparent screen. Sean read that one line over a couple of times without feeling, catching the date March 4th, 3995, before getting out of bed. He quickly straightened his uniform and left the room, making his way swiftly to the briefing room.
Upon entering the spacious room Sean inspected those already present. Gathered around the center tableâ€™s holographic projector were the UTR Paragaulâ€™s officers including Commander Chandler and Rear Admiral Haliston, and next to them were two Drathonian emissaries as well as the Drathonian commander of the allied starship Srâ€™ysta.
â€œAh, Major Kerning, good of you to show up,â€ said Commander Chandler with an obnoxious smile. â€œNow that you are here we can begin.â€
Sean said nothing but gave a crisp salute and approached the table. The spot he was motioned to placed him right at the side of one of the Drathonian emissaries. Even though he was standing straight at attention, the lizard still held at about two and a half heads higher than him. He could feel the lizard looking down at him from the corner of its eye.
Commander Chandler waited for a few moments before continuing. He took another step towards the table and the lights in the room dimmed as the holo display lit up. â€œWe are currently here,â€ he said as he pointed to a location on a zoomed out map of the Milky Way galaxy. â€œWe are approximately thirty light years outside of the Pragia Cluster. At precisely 0500 we shall make an FTL jump to here. The Tharus System. We will come out approximately here, within striking distance of the Planet Tharum. At which point the UTR Paragaul and the UTR Sigmund, along with the DES Srâ€™ysta and the DES Aserlec, will launch a surprise strike on Tharum.
â€œThis is going to be standard procedure, it is nothing new. Terran fighters fly in and cripple the citiesâ€™ primary defenses with Drathonian fighters flying perimeter as support. Once the citiesâ€™ infrastructure is out of commission ground forces will push into the city and capture key locations. Major Kerning here will be heading up our primary pilot division, and Colonel Farin will be leading our primary ground assault. Projected operation time is set at six standard Terran hours. Clock starts at jump.
Sean listened quietly. He ground his teeth as he thought about the upcoming engagement. It was standard high-impact to low-casualty procedure. â€œLow-casualty for all the pilots who donâ€™t have to fly,â€ Sean thought to himself. It was how the navy brass fudged numbers on their paperwork. Send in a precise team to take out the grid fast rather than get into a battle of attrition by going in strategically. The strike squadron typically suffers anywhere from 25% to 100% casualty rates. Losing three dozen or so pilots, as the brass puts it, is a sounder option than losing a hundred or so.
â€œOur primary objective is the capital city Talâ€™Salli. Major Kerning, it will be up to Green Squadron to take out the primary defenses. You are to fire bomb locations here, here, and here,â€ said Chandler as he pointed to locations on a map of the city such as the military base and air field, electrical mainframe for the city, and the control hub for the anti-air mainframe. That last one was gonna be a bitch, Sean thought. â€œOnce you have taken out those targets you will then proceed to the city center, here, where you will drop a thermo-nuclear device. Anything to suggest otherwise Drake Kaâ€™Sindor?â€ Chandler asked the Drathonian commander
The emissary next to Sean spoke up instead. â€œThere will be much opposition in the capital, is there a better squadron to send in?â€
Sean had an urge to knee the emissary in the groin, if it even had one. â€œMajor Kerning has built his career around flying in extremely hostile environments. He himself has survived twenty-one similar operations to date, and Green Squadron has one of the lowest casualty rates of any other squadron in our navy,â€ Rear Admiral Haliston spoke up. â€œIf you are so eager to have someone else fly the mission, then how about you send in one of your squadrons for once?â€ Sean wanted to add, but kept silent.
â€œWell, if that is all, then we jump in T-minus sixty minutes. Everyone should return to their posts and prepare for combat,â€ Chandler said. With the meeting finished the Drathonians were first to leave. Sean stood strong where he was as the two emissaries left followed by their commander. â€œFly strong, Terran. There are many things hinging on your success,â€ hissed Drake Kaâ€™Sindor as he passed behind the Terran pilot. Sean still didnâ€™t like coming in contact with Drathonians even after fifteen years of seeing them. Once the lizards were gone Sean approached Commander Chandler.
â€œNeed something, Major?â€ Chandler asked.
â€œNo Sir, but if I may ask, what is the population of Talâ€™Salli?â€
â€œApproximately 100,000,000 if our information is accurate. Is that all you need to ask?â€
Yes Sir, thank you Sir.â€ With that, Sean walked out of the briefing room to go prep his fighter.