The following entry continues the memoirs of Lt. Col. Carl T. LaFong ("The Memoirs of Lieutenant Colonel T. LaFong: The Kilrathi War's Greatest Ace (TCSN, Retired)") as found in Wing Commander I and II: The Ultimate Strategy Guide.
Previous Memoir Entry: Foreword
: by Lt. Colonel Carl T. LaFong (TCSN, Retired)
I never thought I would write a book about the Kilrathi Wars. After all, the 27th century's greatest historians, novelists, and journalists have already dissected the subject. Dr. David Johnson's four-volume Intergalactic War was called "the finest historical work in the last two hundred years." Sandra Chang's Illusions, a fictional work based on her experiences as a war correspondent for the Global Times, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2689. So why would I choose to compete with such a group?
My background is certainly a factor. I was assigned to the TCS Tiger's Claw in 2654, immediately following my graduation from the TCSN Academy. I spent the next two years as a pilot on the space carrier and was one of the few who survived the Vega, Goddard and Firekka Campaigns. With combat commissions, I rose from 2nd Lieutenant to Lt. Colonel during those years and returned safely from more missions than any other pilot in history. But that's only part of the story.
I was blamed erroneously for the destruction of the Tiger's Claw and suffered the indignity of a court martial. I was exonerated on all charges, but I was known as the "Traitor of K'Tithrak Mang" for the following ten years that I spent at the Caernarvon Space Station. During the Enigma Campaign I served aboard the TCS Concordia and the truth concerning the demise of the Tiger's Claw finally came out.
A little more than two years ago, I received an unusual call from this brash kid who identified himself as Tristan Roberts. I could tell he expected me to recognize the name, but he might have been the local cat-catcher for all I knew. "LaFong," he said, "I want to hire you as a consultant for my next bionetic holo-vid." After some pointed questions, I figured out what he was doing and what he wanted me for.
Now I don't keep up with the celebrity scene, but it turns out that Roberts is the hottest director in the holo-vid industry. Well, he had decided that his next projects, the Wing Commander series, would let people experience the Kilrathi Wars as a pilot on the TCS Tiger's Claw, and in the sequel, aboard the Concordia. That's where I entered the picture.
"I pride myself on accuracy," Roberts said, "and you're the man who can make sure I achieve my goal. I don't just want the numbers, times and dates correct; I want to make sure the feelings, emotions and relationships are on target as well." Following many hours of negotiation, and his assurances that the holo-vid would stick to the way things really were, I agreed.
I don't think I've ever had so much fun and been paid for it as well. I was treated like royalty, squired around by a grade-5 robot chaffeur in a spanking new solar, anti-grav limo, and fed fruits imported from the second planet in the Brimstone System. I'll tell you, it was quite a few cuts above what an old, retired naval officer is used to. As far as my consultation, Roberts kept to his word and made every effort at recreating the tension, agony and exhilaration of the missions flown from the carriers.
Recently released, Wing Commander I and Wing Commander II have spawned a resurgence in public interest about the Kilrathi Wars in general, and the vital role of our space carriers specifically. I've even found myself on the talk show circuit, promoting the holo-vid and answering questions about my combat experience. It's been pretty heady stuff for a 73-year-old codger who thought vivid memories were all that remained in life.
As the project progressed, the idea of writing a book kept sneaking into my thoughts. In the first place, while the new entertainment technology is astonishing, it can't re-create completely the 15 years of lessons learned and friendships earned aboard the Tiger's Claw and Concordia. A book can, or at least it can from a different viewpoint, and I hope that has been accomplished on the following pages.
Secondly, since the vid-game is so realistic, reading of what actually took place on the missions in the Kilrathi Wars will help players who challenge the cats-eyed aliens in the detailed simulation. Finally, while we haven't encountered hostile alien races since the Kilrathi, the possibility always exists, and today's pilots might benefit from this first-person account of those horrifying years.
During my stint at the Terran Confederation Space Naval Academy, I made a promise to myself. I vowed that if I ever had the opportunity to reach an immense group of people I would be sure to deliver a special message. I finally have that chance...
The Academy YearsEdit
The Plebe's HandbookEdit
A Welcoming CommitteeEdit
==="What have I gotten myself into?"
The September BluesEdit
The Best of TimesEdit
For the dogfight tourney, each pilot flew from a separate simulator cockpit. Each simulator was assigned a plebe who helped the pilot get dressed, harnessed, and helmeted and hooking up all the electronics that monitored the pilots' reactions during combat.. With cameras and microphones in each cockpit transmitting to an outside theatre, the tourney was as much a spectator event as a competitive contest. The sim operators could also open a microphone and transmit instructions into the cockpit from the theatre. Everyone would be watching the final dogfight. It was the perfect setup.
You also have to understand Marshall. He wasn't the type of guy who responded positively to embarrassment. He just didn't really have the self assurance that he tried so hard to display when he met people.
Anthony made sure the helmet was in the cockpit, but out of sight, just minutes before Marshall arrived for the final match. I stayed in the packed theatre area while Marshall arrived and climbed into the simulator cockpit. I made sure the micro-phone was open so that Marshall would be able to hear the reaction of the crowd.
Anthony was more than happy to oblige. The pilot was checking the gauges when Anthony placed the helmet over his head and the smelly, gooey mixture started squirting out around Marshall's neck.
Everyone in the theatre started howling, and Marshall could hear every guffaw in the cockpit. I was rolling on the floor.
He ripped the helmet from his head to reveal a face that was even redder than his hair. He was covered with slop. Marshall was trying to find his assistant, but Anthony had bolted away.
I grabbed the microphone, knowing he recognized my voice. "Good morning, Midshipman Marshall," I crooned. "It looks like you'll need a few minutes before we can start our match. I just wanted to be sure you knew who had delivered the first annual 'Official Badge of False Bravado.' You earned it."
Well Marshall cut loose with some of the foulest language imaginable. He just couldn't stand the fact that I had embarrassed him in front of his peers. I stalked out of the theatre and headed for my simulator cockpit to get ready for the action.
I must have really ticked him off, because Marshall was like a wild man when our dogfight started. On his first pass, he didn't even fire a shot, instead just hitting the afterburners and trying to ram me. I couldn't believe it. This was only simulated, but the first thing a pilot must think about is his own survival. That apparently didn't matter to Marshall.
I was sweating bullets. I didn't like Marshall, but he sure could handle a joystick. It seemed like he'd been born in the cockpit seat, the way he made the Scimitar dance around in space. I thought his anger at my prank would be to my advantage. It wasn't. I was spending so much time dodging his attempts to ram me that I couldn't concentrate on my own strategy.
"This maniac is going to destroy both of us," I screamed. He didn't, but he took out my ship with the most precise flying and shooting I had ever encountered. Even the computerized Kilrathi opponents at Ace skill level couldn't have touched him.
Marshall won the bragging rights, but still hadn't done anything to endear himself to anyone in the class. He wouldn't shake hands after the match, and ignored the plebes who tried to congratulate him on his victory.
Thinking it would bother him, the plebes started calling him Maniac. It didn't even faze him. In fact, it fit right in with the image he was trying to develop. They named me Prankster.
End of Year OneEdit
Not all our final examinations were as enjoyable as the dogfight tournament. In history, engineering and physics, the finals were about as much fun as walking barefoot across a bed of hot coals. I can't count the hours I spent in the library, in study groups, and at the computer keyboard. For luck, I even tossed some pennies in the space academy's replica of Tecumseh Fountain, a tradition started hundreds of years ago at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Maniac might have defeated me in the simulator, but I came out on top when the final grades were posted for the 4th-class midshipmen. He didn't really take the rest of his courses very seriously, thinking his natural smarts would allow him to get by. He got by all right, but just by the skin of his teeth, and I couldn't resist throwing a barb his way when I saw him walking toward the board where the score sheets were posted. There was a good crowd around too. That helped.
"Hey, look, everybody," I said loud enough for Maniac to hear. "Here comes the guy from Leto who said he would graduate at the top of our class. Let's check his standing." Of course I already knew that there were only three plebes below him.
He marched up to the board, checked his ranking, and turned and stared right at me. "Paper grades are great for show, Prankster, but fighting and flying is where you earn your dough." "Touche" I said to myself.
Tecumseh Fountain wasn't the only tradition we stole from what we called the "Water Navy." In Annapolis, at the end of each year, the plebe class must remove a Dixie cup (the hats worn by 4th-class midshipmen) from the top of Herndon Monument. Removal informally signals the end of plebe year. What makes it difficult is the mixture of grease, manure, and paint that's been spread on the statue. It takes hours for the plebes to slip, slide, and finally form a pyramid until one can climb to the top and remove the symbol. Legend has it that the individual who removes the cap will eventually become admiral of the fleet.
At the TCSN academy, we have a statue of Admiral James Halworthy, the founder of the academy. I spent so much time making sure Maniac wasn't the one to reach the top, and vice versa, that a diminutive plebe from the 2nd Battalion, Tanya Benbow, shimmied to the 45-foot statue's peak and captured the hat. We weren't youngsters anymore and were no longer subject to the whims of upperclassmen. What a relief!
The Academy ChangesEdit
The second year is kind of a blur. When the war heated up and the Confederation became increasingly desperate for qualified pilots, emergency legislation was passed to create an accelerated program at the academy. Starting with our class, summer leave no longer existed. Students left the academy after two years to spend a year in on-the-job training on a TCSN ship. Then they were sent to permanent assignments, usually on the front lines.
With the change in our status, there wasn't time for fun and games. Other than intramural sports, the academy was all business, and the business was cranking out people who could get the job done. I can't begin to estimate the time we spent in simulators, computer labs, the library and the classroom. And now everything we learned was specifically related to the war.
While instructors had always integrated the war into our courses, in the new program we pored over the dynamics of every battle, debated each engagement's strategy and tactics, and studied the Kilrathi's ships, weapons and pilots. It was what I'd envisioned when I first applied for appointment to the academy. It was what I'd come to learn.
The Tiger's Claw - Assignment of ChoiceEdit
As we dissected recent successes in the Kilrathi war, I noticed that the name of the TCS Tiger's Claw kept appearing. Everyone at the academy had heard in history class the story of the Claw's shakedown cruise in 2644 when they unexpectedly encountered and routed a superior Kilrathi invasion force. More recently, the Confederation's largest carrier had fought an unbelievable delaying action known as Custer's Carnival. It set up the escape from Kilrathi space of 10 Confederation Draymans carrying more than 2000 ground troops.
Ultimately, the Tiger's Claw was where 1, and most other pilots, wanted to serve. It was the assignment of choice, not only because of the success it had achieved in the war, but also because of the personnel on the carrier. Colonel Halcyon was known throughout the fleet as a leader who always supported the decisions his pilots had to make in combat. Pilots like Captain James Khumalo, Major James Taggart, Captain Jeannette Devereaux, and Major Michael Casey carried reputations as the most professional and effective pilots in the war. Why would a young pilot want to serve anywhere else?
Know the Kilrathi PilotsEdit
As the war progressed, pilots on the Tiger's Claw and other Bengal-class carriers identified individual Kilrathi pilots through repeated contacts. These enemy pilots were the cream of the crop, the aces who inflicted the greatest damage on the Confederation fleet. Terran Intelligence requested that our pilots begin reporting on the tactics employed by the enemy aces. As the amount of information grew, they were able to provide profiles of these pilots similar to the ones generated on the Kilrathi ships to the students at the academy. In all cases, the tactics employed by the aces differed from those of other enemy pilots who flew the same types of ships.
Bhurak Starkiller, flying a Salthi-class light fighter, carried a reputation as the finest pilot in the Kilrathi space navy although the number of confirmed kills he claimed was unknown. He was an unusual character who seemed to consider dogfights a pleasurable pastime. When the fighting ceased to be fun, he would often run and hide.
Dakhath, flying a Dralthi-class medium fighter, had recorded 55 confirmed kills before the Vega Campaign even started. He was the most ruthless of the enemy pilots and wouldn't break off from an engagement while any Terran ships were still able to fly.
Similarly, he wouldn't break his attack on a specific Terran ship until it was destroyed.
Khajja the Fang, flying a Krant-class medium fighter, was known as the most single-minded of the enemy aces. He wouldn't respond to taunts, and always went right after the mission objec-tive, often ignoring fighter escorts.
Bakhtosh Redclaw, flying a Jalthi-class heavy fighter, considered himself to be the best Kilrathi pilot, although we placed him at the bottom of the list. His greatest strength was his accuracy with the Jalthi's six-guns, but his flying skills left a lot to be desired. He responded to taunts and hated being called cat-face.
Preparing to leave the AcademyEdit
Other then Maniac, we'd all taken the tactical information on Kilrathi ships and pilots quite seriously. It would be impossible to memorize every single situation, but it didn't take long to understand the scenarios that were most valuable. I spent my time making sure I knew what the enemy would do when I was on their tail, in a head-to-head confrontation, with a missile coming, and after a laser hit.
Maniac was vocal about how he thought the whole deal was nonsense. It happened in class one day and almost cost him his chance at OJT training on a Terran capital ship.
"Why are we spending so much time working with the printouts from a bunch of computer jockeys?, he asked our instructor with disdain. "We should be spending our time in the simulators, or better yet, flying real ships in space. Everyone knows the best pilots use their instincts, not a lot of gibberish that'll just keep you from reacting to the situation!"
I thought the major would burst a blood vessel. His face got red, his hands clenched, and he was trembling with anger. "For someone who has never been in a real dogfight, you've got a lot of nerve," he said. 'Tm tempted to bring you up on charges of insubordination and bounce you out of the academy faster than a laser takes to reach its target. One more outburst and its definite."
As it turned out, Maniac was able to control himself, at least in front of the instructors, and stayed in the academy until we were ready to receive our space assignments on large ships. There we would receive six months of flight training, then jump into one of the systems where we would provide support for the war effort. We had spent two difficult years at the academy, but it would all pay off when we finally reached space.
As one of the top graduates in the class of 200, I was able to select my assignment.
Only eight positions were available in the Exeter-class destroyers, second in size only to the carriers, and I decided on the Formidable. Maniac and three others were assigned there as well.
We wouldn't have a formal graduation, since our academy training would actually end while we were in space. Our class however, informally gathered before everyone took off to their assignments. It was kind of strange. In our accelerated program, we didn't have the opportunity to socialize that most classes had before us. We really didn't know each other that well. I guess that's part of what happens during a war. Everyone's lives are disrupted.
Your Ship's MissilesEdit
Hanging around in the pilot's lounge, you heard a lot of conversations where the pilots were discussing the merits of one missile over another. It seemed that every combat pilot had a favorite. Unfortunately, after hearing a few of the conversations, I realized that the pilots were often contradicting themselves. The truth is, that even our best missiles didn't pack enough of a wallop to take out enemy ships unless their shields were damaged. The best way to damage their shields was to blast them down with our guns.
Terran ships carried a full complement of missiles, dumb-fires, heat-seekers, image-recognition, and friend-or-foe, but we couldn't rely on the explosive power of a single missile to take out enemy ships. With a lucky hit at incredibly close range, we might take down a light fighter, but the odds were always against us. Using multiple missiles is equally ineffective. In most situations, the enemy's shields regenerated before the second missile had a chance to strike.
While Terran scientists were working on improvements, the missiles in our inventory carried about the same amount of explosive material. Hitting an enemy with a Javelin HS was about the same as hitting one with a Pilum FF. What made a real difference, was the range from the target. A missile at long range was almost worthless unless the enemy ship was so damaged that the pilot was ready to eject. At close range our missiles could really jolt the pilot and make sure he knew we were nearby.
While we studied all the missile statistics in the classroom, the greatest lesson we learned was to rely on our guns in combat. We could take out every enemy ship known at the time with nothing but the laser cannon on a Hornet, although it was much easier with the mass drivers or neutrons.
Joining the WarEdit
It wasn't fun and games anymore. We jumped into Vega Sector and prepared for our first missions in space. No more drones or target ships. No more mock dogfights or training maneuvers. This was real, and I was scared.
Since we were still in training, we would operate in the safest section of the Vega Sector. The destroyer would be our base of operations as we flew escort missions in Hornets to move sup plies around where needed. Normally, we escorted Draymans, flying as wingmen with veteran pilots. We didn't expect to meet the enemy on these missions, but Confederation policy dictated that every convoy include a fighter escort.
My first 20 missions were routine. I just stayed in formation, behind and to one side of my wingman and kept an eye on the radar display. It wasn't much different than the training flights I'd flown months before until my 21st mission.
We had moved a little farther into the sector and were protecting two Draymans filled with medical supplies. The convoy was headed for the second planet in the Ardai System, an area controlled by the Confederation.
I was flying as wingman with Major James J. Jones on the farthest left flank of the convoy. From my position, I would be the first to pick up any enemy activity from that side of the convoy. I was almost mesmerized by the blue, grey and white blips on the radar when a new color caught my eye. I didn't believe it at first and was a little slow in telling the major that an enemy ship had appeared. It was the first red blip I'd ever seen since my assignment to the Formidable. I even hit the display screen with the heel of my hand thinking the blip was just a glitch in the system. It wasn't. Later, Jones told me I almost blew the speakers in his headset when I screamed out my warning.
The major told me to form on his wing and I swung into position. I guessed he was waiting to see whether a single enemy fighter would approach our large convoy. By the time auto targeting identified it as a Dralthi, Jones was ordering me to break and attack. I couldn't believe this was really happening and I fought to control my bladder.
I broke left and down and stayed in position to protect my wingleader. We didn't stray too far from the Drayman, but the Dralthi just kept coming. Jones fired two shots from the laser and I let loose with a dumb-fire at long range. The Dralthi wasn't stupid, and turned to run. We let him and moved back into position with the convoy. Jones was calm, but I couldn't settle down. I kept such a close watch on the radar for the rest of the flight that I was lucky I didn't run into my wingleader or one of the Draymans.
I was surprised when Jones complimented me at the mission briefing with Commander Della Guardia. I have to admit my head swelled by a few hat sizes, even though I didn't think I'd done anything special.
As it turned out, that was my final mission from the Formidable. Soon afterward, the academy trainees all received their commissions as 2nd Lieutenants and permanent assignments. Maniac and I would transfer to the Tiger's Claw in a few days, while the other five trainees would remain with the destroyer. I thought I was ready.
Next Section: The Vega Campaign