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Dio Beckstead

Broken Pegasus Wings

Deadly Game of Tag

Written and Edited by Dio Beckstead

A field of stars was one of the most beautiful sights in the universe, Titus decided--even if it wasn't real. The soft glimmer of the billions of pinpricks of light, some sharp with a painful intensity, while others shone with a dim brilliance that could never quite be called dull, all contributed to the masterful canvas in which Titus hung motionless by invisible threads above the gray canyons and crevices of a small, nameless moon. Titus couldn't help but marvel at just how real everything seemed--even though he knew he was in one of Seelakk's Sim. pods deep under the Adonian's mansion--his senses assured him he was indeed hanging motionless above a moon in the cockpit of a small fighter with only a thin layer of his bubble cockpit seperating him, from the endless depths of space.

"Titussss," a delicate voice crackled in his ear. Somehow, even over the tiny speakers that buzzed and popped in his ears with simulated static, Seelakk managed to purr seductively. "I've decided which part of you I like the most after seeing you wiggle into the sim-pod. That little waggle you manage, your cheeks so pert and seductive. I could just die with a smile on my lips right now." He sighed dramatically, making Titus bite his tongue as he tried to snarl.

"I could've sworn you promised you'd look the other way."

The Adonian's voice tightened slightly, "A little white lie never hurt anyone. My stiff willpower lasted until I got jealous when all my friends got to watch you slip into that pod in that tight-"

"Don't remind me!" Titus hissed loudly into the mic set into his visored helmet. Titus reached down and tried to pry the shiny black material to get rid of the wedgy in his crotch, an act of futility. "You would give me a pilot suit a size too small. And this after you tell me that you make more in one minute that ninety eight percent of the people living on this planet do in a year. Yet your personal tailer can't seem to tell the difference between a small and a frecking extra tiny."

The Adonian was laughing, and after a moment it sounded like many voices had joined the Adonian's in a fuzzy chorus. Rom must be letting everyone in on the cockpit communications. "Accidents do happen," the Adonian said with a certain amount of amusement once the laughter had quieted. "Your opponent should be appearing shortly. Remember Titus, don't start your engine or engage your target until I give you the signal."

Titus didn't bother to reply. Instead he spent his time familiarizing himself with the cockpit layout. It would give his jittery hands something to do. He had been given three snub fighters to choose from. Of those three, Titus had only been vaguely familiar with one of the craft: the Osprey, a fighter/interceptor that specialized as a sort of space superiority fighter. It was fast and packed quite a punch with its six high yield no-lock heat seeking missiles that were bunched onto two racks set slightly behind the bubble cockpit on its angular stubby wings. Once those were used up, he would still have access to his primary weapon, three plasma strafers mounted in a tripod on the nose of his snub. The plasma weapon was not in mainstream use, it was designed as a high yield short range burst weapon that used up an immense amount of the small snubs' power grid while in operation. Deadly in space combat, they were the bane of dogfights and large capital ships, whose large guns were unsuited for shooting the darting Osprey's during their strafing runs. Plasma Strafers were faster than any conventional laser by a wide margin, and could fill a wide area with the deadly energy projectiles until overheated barrels forced the weapon offline. The trade-off for all that firepower was that the Osprey had no shields, the snubs meager power supply would only be able to support either her weapons or her shields, not both at the same time. It was a naked bird, as Bryce would have called her. She was fast, agile, and could deal with several slower fighters or bombers all at once, but it only took one lucky shot to scatter her pilot's atoms across the solar system. As such, they had never been adopted by any major military powers. High-risk interceptors like the Osprey were a mercenary's bread and butter. Titus had flown several on various missions for Kimmel with mixed success.

Thinking about Kimmel, the gruff asshole who Titus was sure had gotten a pole stuck five feet up his ass when he was little, brought the requisite scowl to his lips. Titus always had the distinct impression Kimmel had never thought he was a very good pilot, the way he kept insisting Titus go on the front line was almost like the old bastard was trying to knock him off. And never a word of praise, it was always things Titus had done wrong, when he did well, Kimmel said nothing. For what it was worth, Kimmel could burn up on the nearest sun and Titus wouldn't shed any tears of regret. It didn't matter in the end what the old bastard thought about him. Titus was a much better mechanic anyways.

A web of safety restraints held him securely in place so he wouldn't be in danger during his more high-speed maneuvers. The controls were Spartan, and he liked them that way; a control stick on his right controlled the directional thrusters, while his left controlled the throttle.

"Computer?" Titus asked hesitantly glancing around for an active screen to interact with the computer—it had been quite a while since he had been in an Osprey after all and some versions of the old sim pods didn't simulate an actual computer, but Rom didn't seem like the type of person in invest in anything less than the best his greasy money could buy. He was in luck.

Or...out of luck as it were.

"WHAT? Finally decided to stop ignoring me did you?" A deep male voice roared over his cockpit speakers, startling Titus so much he jumped in his seat. A moment later Titus was cursing for all he was worth as he had somehow knocked the crown of his helmeted head on the top of the transparent bubble cockpit. "Watch your tongue boy! I'll turn off your sensors if you don't mind your manners!"

Titus had his helmet in his hands, wincing when he realized he wasn't going to be able to rub his head. "What...? Who the hell are you?" he managed finally.

"Don't think I won't...then where will you be?" The computer paused dramatically. "DEAD that's where. So let's get one thing straight here kid, OK? You don't mess with me, and we'll get along just fine."

If Titus had thought he had been horrified before when Rom had stood before some of the most powerful figures in the galaxy and wagered ten lifetimes worth of Titus' earnings over his short temper, this was much much worse.

" can't be," Titus muttered under his breath, then louder and sternly he said "Computer identify yourself."

"Rude! Absolutely no manners. I have a name you know. Identify myself indeed! Is that how you speak to all your elders?" The deep electronic voice prattled. "It's a wonder you still have a tongue. Ask again when you learn some humility, boy! I've lived too long to put up with a brat like you. Respect for your elders, that's what they need to teach you hooligans. Beat your uppity attitudes out of you early in life, that's what. Are you even listenin-"

Titus flicked on his radio again, "ROM! What the hell have you done to this computer?!" Titus yelled into the microphone over the haughty protests of the computer who had started threatening to activate the ejector seat if he didn't sit still and be quiet.

A soft click as the communications channel opened. "Titus darling? What's wrong sweet cheeks?"

Titus wished the Adonian was right in front of him at that moment. Titus fingers itched to clench them around Seelakk's collared lace neck. He was going to KILL him. "What the HELL have you done to the computer?" Titus managed through gritted teeth.

"Oh my!" Rom's voice was silken as he giggled to himself. "You found HT-5000 from the sounds of it. Yes, can't mistake that voice. I thought he was much too cute to throw away."

"ADONIAN! Is that your perverted voice of yours I hear?" HT's voice had gone from lecturing tone, to one of thinly veiled disgust. "You can't fool me! You have some nerve putting me in a simulator pod you uncivilized excuse for lizard spawn!" The computer complained heatedly. Titus' ears were rang from the sheer volume of HT's complaints and he swore loudly. That just set the computer chastising him again, and for a while all the computer did was alternate chewing them both out thoroughly. Much to Titus' annoyance, HT sounded strikingly like Jeckt on one of his bad days, well...minus all the swearing. HT seemed to have a marginally larger vocabulary. But after listening to HT for five minutes Titus decided cursing was cursing no matter what words were used; the more you knew, the more arrogant it sounded.

"See Titus? Isn't he cute?" Rom said hurriedly, there was a short whisper from someone nearby before Rom spoke again, "Your opponent is on the way, enjoy the match." Titus could almost feel the satisfied grin the Adonian probably had on his face when he next spoke, "five to one odds darling...just do your best alright? Win or lose I still love you!" With a condemning click the comm. turned off.

Titus slammed his gloved hand down on the comm. switch, ending the transmission on his end as well. "Will you shut UP?" Titus snarled when it seemed that the computer had no intention of stopping his tirade about manners and respect and...

"I will not you barbaric cannibalistic slug! And the next time you lay a fist on one of my buttons I'll shock you into the afterlife! I don't have to take this. I had a real life before this. I had a job, and respect! And now look at me! What am I now? I'm babysitting a kid who can barely reach the pedals on the floor! Maybe I should scan the ship and make sure they put on some training stabilizers-"

Titus was dredging his memory frantically. One of Titus' freakish gifts, as Jeckt would have called it, was that whenever someone told him something if he wanted to remember it, he remembered it. Photographic didn't begin to describe Titus' memory. He had scared Jeckt and all of his professors at the academy with it, since then he had pretended ignorance on many occasions, especially when dealing with the other techs and mechanics. They had an aversion to anything...different. The last thing Titus wanted to do was alienate any of his surrogate parents. At this point in time though, it was a blessing.

After a moment of rummaging around inside his head, Titus remembered an old command Jeckt had taught him when dealing with the `personality computers' from an era long past. "Hardcode override, terminal silent mode!" Titus said, then sighed as the cockpit was blessed with silence. Instead, the small screen beside his radar and status readouts flickered to life, and small green block letters started filling up the screen and scrolled by with at a barely legible speed.

You mannerless, rude, uncouth, toddler! Insolence! I will not be silent! You will apologize this instant for abusing your privilege as a pilot, and return my audio immediately you gutless, spineless spawn of space droppings!!

Titus was distracted from HT's ranting and looked up as his sharp eyes picked out a piece of starfield that started shimmering just before the small dark outline of another snub fighter coalesced. "HT, give me a full spec. zoom on unknown target and label it as our primary objective" Titus tried to order. He might have well have asked for a billion credits while he was at it.

The onscreen type paused for only a moment. Make me? Was the terse reply. Then it was back to lines and lines of scrolling text. Something about the size of his manhood...

"Fine fine!" Titus sighed and reached for the small type-pad and swung it out so he could access the ship's onboard computers. "You're a 5000 series anyways...I guess it would be a little too much for your underdeveloped processor to handle..."

The text on the screen started scrolling faster and the type turned an angry crimson, but before Titus even touched the keypad, his data readouts were being filled with scanner data on the new ship. Titus couldn't help the wry grin that threatened his lips. "Thanks," he said, studying the data readouts. Like most of his ships systems, the sensors were severely lacking as well. Osprey usually relied on tactical data from friendly capital ships, something this particular scenario lacked. Titus was starting to regret his choice.

The sensors told Titus that the other ship was cold like his own, nothing but electronics were on, running off the ship's battery. His opponent flew a much larger craft than his own. The Panther was a typical Alliance ship, a frontline space superiority fighter. Like the Alliance, it was blunt and business like and about as exciting looking as a big slab of plasteele and had about as much character as a really excited turtle, which it resembled slightly with the large round sensor dome on its back. It was a sleek black crescent half-moon, its wingtips ending in roundish flippers. The cockpit was set forwards and it looked as if the entire ship possessed a freakish underbite, emphasized by the way its main guns stuck out from beneath the pilot. Titus scrolled through the data quickly. The Panther didn't possess great speed or maneuverability, but it had shields as well as a remote laser on its tail, which made it dangerous to dogfight. It carried twelve dumb-fire missiles in two packs of six, as well as two deadlock heat seekers along the midline of the wide fighter. Deadlock Heatseekers were faster than the ones on Titus' Osprey, but they required a lock, unlike his own missiles, which were a little slower but could be snap-fired without waiting for the computer's lock—after firing, the missile's onboard computer took care of the tedious lock-on procedure and subsequent flight.

"Pilots, countdown to engagement in sixty seconds, you may commence hot-start" A sterile electronic voice reported over the comm. channel.

Titus started to panic. He still hadn't reconciled with his computer! This was going to be a disaster! "Listen, HT, I know you don't like me but I need you to please...PLEASE cooperate or else I'm going to lose everything...please."

The screen cleared abruptly, and the small blue cursor blinked ominously for a second. For a moment Titus thought his plea had caused the computer to crash.

I'll cooperate on one condition.

"What do you want?" Titus asked warily.

Promise me that once this is over, you'll get me out of this simulator! I don't want to rot in here for the rest of my life!

Of all the stupid requests... Titus didn't even want to contemplate what the Adonian was going to think about all this. "Fine! Yes, I agree. Audio on. Commence hot start immediately." Titus glanced at the mission timer, which still gave him thirty seconds before engagement. He would deal with the headstrong computer later. "Recalibrate all guns to one point six two five distance multiplier. Reset safety limiter on missiles one through six to ten point two five."

For once, even though the computer had its audio back, it remained silent and just continued to list the changes it made on the small readout screen. The quiet hum of the quark generator was reassuring as most of the power readouts blinked with life and went from red to orange to green in less than twenty seconds. The guns would take a little longer, but that was acceptable, he was planning on using up his long distance payload first, which is why he had to reset the safety limit to a higher number. Once his opponent got close in, Titus would have to again reset his safety limit to something reasonable.

"I hope you know what you're doing kid..." HT said morosely, his voice clearly indicating he and the Osprey were in all likelihood doomed.

"Your confidence in my piloting abilities makes me feel all warm and fuzzy HT." Titus said, and HT snorted. Did computers snort? Titus didn't have time to think about that odd noise before the countdown reached zero. Titus goosed the throttle to its maximum limit, pressing him back into the pilot seat uncomfortably and brought his targeting reticule into line with the crescent-shaped panther which was also also lumbering into motion. Titus tried to imagine what it would be like to all those people watching--probably somewhat like watching a sparrow take aim at a whale.

"Missile hot," Titus said aloud out of habit as his thumb flicked open the red safety switch on the back of his control stick and depressed the small red button there. His controller tried to tug his hand sideways as the missile's launch momentum threatened to veer the ship off to one side, Titus had completely forgotten that that was a side effect almost unique to the Osprey, whose stripped gyro system could not compensate for as much as a normal ship-gyro would.

While the white plum of superheated fuel streaked towards the distant blip, a red light started flashing and a short BLEEP was issued into his ear. Titus slammed the stick as far as it would go forwards and rolled, diving rapidly towards the cratered surface of the moon in a vague corkscrew motion that had his stomach pressed into the bubble top one moment and scraping his boots the next. "Activate ECM!" Titus swore again when the light failed to vanish. When the red went solid that meant that a lock had been established. Then it would be a race to the surface.

The Osprey had no counter-measures.

"Oh, there's a good idea. Let's have our mediocre ECM try and match-up with that panther's dual generator powered ECCM. I realize you're a silly little boy with delusions of grandeur, but don't push your luck. I'm rerouting all ECM power to the engines and directional thrusters. You can thank me later."

Titus was too busy keeping one eye on the missile indicator and the other on the twisting and whirling landscape approaching below with frightening quickness to reply. This was all wrong! Computers were NOT supposed to talk back; disaster was looming. The light went out just before he reached the drop-off of the first canyon of gloomy gray rock. As he dove into the canyon he had to hit the pedals at his feet hard to pull the nose of the ship up level with the blurred, uneven rocky ground that flashed past beneath, using mostly his directional thrusters, letting the weak gravity do the rest. That done, Titus once again let the throttle loose and the Osprey darted forwards, accelerating and accelerating like only the small sleek fighter could.

"Where is he?" Titus asked.

"You never said thanks." HT sniffed haughtily, obviously preening that his strategy had worked. "Missile one has run out of fuel and detonated. He's off of our sensor profile. That won't change until you pop up above the canyon walls—ninety eight percent sensor loss. We're running around down here a like a mouse trying to find cheese."

"Quiet." Titus ordered. Despite his circumstances, despite having his life pretty much on the line, Titus was enjoying the familiar thrill of adrenaline as it tore through his body, bringing every detail, every thought into crisp focus. The tremors that had been running through his hands had vanished as soon as his fingers had wrapped around the controls. How long had it been since he had last felt like this? Titus wondered. Too long, he decided. "Do you have a map of the trenches on file HT?"

"What's the magic word?"

"HT!" Titus snapped angrily as he wrenched the controller sideways, twisting the ship around a tight left-hand bend, a slight shuddering announced one of the wings had clipped an outcrop of rock.

"Oh HEY! Careful! Watch where you're going kid! This isn't a toy to play tag with walls in. One more hit like that and you can push on that control stick all you want, but nothing is going to happen. Just where exactly did you learn to fly!?"

"Alright, alright! I'm sorry; I haven't flown in a long time. Now can I please see the map?" Titus grimaced as he glanced at the large display which had turned into a very confusing looking topographic map that made his eyes water just looking at. The canyon ended about one hundred miles from his current position and he was going to have to pop up into sensor range. While Titus was pretty sure his opponent had no better idea where Titus was, there was still a risk. Titus' thumb hovered anxiously over the small blinking yellow afterburner switch on his throttle controller as his small fighter continued its careening course through the rapidly narrowing canyon of dull gray rock.

His communications channel abruptly crackled with a strange voice. Not deep like he had expected, it sounded almost immature in the higher reaches of baritone. A kid? Titus couldn't help thinking. "That was pretty clever of you, resetting the safety limiter on your missiles. I nearly got an engine-full of shrapnel thanks to you. Now how about you stop hiding in those trenches and come fight me head on."

Titus glanced with a slight twinge of annoyance making him itch to turn his comm. on as well. So the other pilot was a talker was he? Titus had met plenty of those in Kimmel's academy. He studied the map one more time and decidedly ignored the crackling comm. channel, which continued to be filled with the waspish voice that attempted to distract Titus.

"I saw you on the vid screens when you came in. How old are you? Like twelve? Do you still get someone to wipe your ass? That's all they teach at Kimmel's academy isn't it? Unlike you," the voice continued to taunt as the distance indicator on Titus' map scroll downwards rapidly, "I went to a real academy, not some garbage scow training—sorry—what I meant to say was: mercenary prep school-"

Titus grinned and shook his head. He wasn't going to cave and answer. "Hey, HT, what are the chances of you grabbing his location from the comm. signal?"

There was a pause as a bunch of numbers that looked like gibberish scrolled down HT's communications screen. "What do you think I am, some sort of machine that spews fortunes? I can give you a general `over there' answer, but that's it. Sorry kid, unless you pop up I'm blind."

"If I pop up we're both dead..."Titus grumbled, but respected the fact that HT had tried at least instead of just offing his idea right away. Although that didn't settle Titus' roiling stomach any.

The other pilot was still talking, "hey, so is it true how that you're the Adonian's latest fuck toy? I had heard he liked them young, but I never figured a pilot on the Pegasus went for that sort of thing. My Father may hate you, but he respected you ladies. I can't say I feel the same after seeing how that disgusting freak hung off you like a love-sick little bitch."

A flash of annoyance at the other pilot's assumptions concerning his sexuality distracted him for only a moment. But Titus' mood abruptly brightened as HT turned on the communications channel. Computers were definitely NOT supposed to do that on their own.


Titus was having a very tough time keeping a straight face through HT's tirade, which completely drowned out the cocky pilot's drawling taunts. All Titus heard was a short "What the hell?" before HT completely overwhelmed the opposition with sheer volume alone. Titus got the distinct impression that HT would never ever lose in the creative insult category. It would be more productive to argue with an angry devilish dictionary with the power of speech.

Titus took a quick glance at the distance to the end of the trench and grimaced, he flicked off the public comm. Channel so he could talk to HT without listening to his ravings. "OK HT, I want you to drop missiles five and six when we hit the outer marker of the canyon, give me a safe drop speed for the missile counter-thrusters."

"Of all the crazy, stupid things...and I suppose you want me to re-program them to delay fire as well?"

"Sixty seconds please; speed?"

The computer sighed dramatically as numbers flashed by on the screen. HT did know how to sigh after all. Titus was very curious as to who had programmed HT...he was so...human; too much for Titus' taste. He had helped Jeckt reprogram another personality computer earlier in the summer, but it had not even approached HT's...unique attitude. "Next you'll be wanting to know where the nearest cafe is, and the price of a hot caf."

"Not funny HT." Titus said, cutting around the last sharp angled cut in the canyon before the long trench run. Much smoother that time, Titus thought he was getting the hang of it again. He had forgotten how sensitive the rudder pedals were in the small angular Osprey.

"Yes, need to slow down to ¼ your current speed, otherwise those missiles will be paste when they touchdown."

Something was niggling in the back of his mind. It was a familiar feeling he sometimes got. The idea of slowing down that much suddenly seemed like a very bad idea. Titus shook his head, "No way! I need to keep fifty percent of my thrust if this is going to work. He knows where we're coming out. He just doesn't know when." Titus' left hand twitched on the throttle, slowing his speed and activating his reverse thrusters, which instantly made his teeth rattle as the entire cockpit shook during the fighter's deceleration. "We'll just have to risk a hot drop."

"I suppose I could rotate the missiles and get them to do a five second burn...but then they might detect them. Oh blast! It's your funeral after all." HT muttered more to himself than at Titus. Then a little louder, "how do you know he knows where we are? He's just as blind as we are, he's probably skimming at high altitude waiting for us to poke our heads up."

"Call it...a pilot's intuition." Titus said firmly.

"Excuse me? We're doomed aren't we? You don't have to shield my feelings. I can deal with the truth. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in a simulator." HT mourned loudly.

"...sixty! NOW HT, missile drop!" Titus heard the dull thump as two missiles started free falling off the tips of his wings. His hand tightened on the throttle, shoving it to its limit forwards and at the same time depressing the blinking afterburner switch. Not only did the afterburners add a huge head of speed, but it would also hopefully shield the Osprey's now freefalling missiles doing a reverse burn at low altitude from detection.

Titus was thrown back in his seat as his Osprey shot from the eaves of the deep canyon into the rocky bed of a much shallower trench. And just in time, a shower of six familiar blue missile trails pounded the exit of the canyon only several milliseconds after Titus' snub, sending small hailstones of debris knocking and ricocheting off his canopy.

HT gulped loudly. "Dumbfire missiles! Please tell me that was a lucky guess. He's on your six! Fourty klicks and increasing now. HA HAHH! See you, you little sneaky pile of rubbish!" HT's voice cracked when the Osprey started vibrating. "Oh, hey, ARE YOU INSANE BOY!?"

Titus swore loudly and rolled left as he pushed the nose towards the gyrating landscape below. The gee force of the moon's gravity trying to pull him out of his restraints and send him flying out into space. He released the afterburner's as the fighter's frame started creaking ominously and several yellow flashing lights on his damage display clamored for his attention. He didn't have time to look at what he had damaged in those desperate high-speed maneuvers, bright ruby steaks of light were tracking his path, taking sizeable chunks of moonscape out in their wake. Titus twisted his head, catching a flashing glimpse of the large fighter taking potshots from the stratosphere above.

"HT, damage?"

"Light I suppose. You managed to leave my port side stabilizer somewhere back in the canyon, power fluctuations in the grid, but its still 70% and stabilizing. Just don't pull any reckless moves like that last one. It's a miracle that stupid stunt didn't tear me into small parts!"

The Osprey shuddered again as another near miss from the long range laser on the opposing fighter vaporized a good chunk of rock on Titus' left, sending more debris clattering onto the body of the rapidly scarring fighter. Titus risked a quick glance at his sensors and cut his speed so he wouldn't outrun the hunter behind him. Which didn't go over too well with HT.

"Stop that! Do you have a deathwish?"

"How long until the missiles activate HT?" Titus mumbled as he threw the Osprey into a wide loop that decreased the distance between the two craft some more.

"Fifteen seconds."

Titus grimaced and checked his sensors and the map again. He did some quick mental calculations and goosed his speed a touch. "Disable safety on missile three."


"Just do it HT, and hurry!" Titus snapped, his temper flaring.

"If we get hit..."

"We won't. Trust me." Titus tried to assure the computer. Not that his now cramped stomach believed his words any more than HT probably did.


Titus dodged around another set of the blinding beams of high powered light. The familiar tightness in his stomach was back. This was it. If the missiles he had dropped earlier had been exposed, Titus was about five seconds away from getting vaped. Titus said a silent prayer and flicked the safety switch behind his control stick, he brought his crosshair to bear on the range of hills he had spotted on the map earlier and let out a small breath before depressing the firing stud.

"Missiles three, hot." He reported. The craft skewed right this time, but Titus was ready and had less difficulty compensating this time around keeping his nose tight in line, using the added momentum to roll with the missiles recoil.

"Missile five actively searching out target, no response from missile six." HT said warily, then his voice brightened a bit. "The panther is burning it." He reported, referring to the fighter that had just activated its afterburners to escape the missile. "Missile five has locked onto the panther. Still no response from missile six."

"One is enough." Titus said as he watched his own missile crash into the hillside ahead. The blossom of flame kicked up a large cloud of lunar dust, his sensors blacked out from the overload. Titus tightened his hands on the controls and plowed into the cloud. As soon as he did he snap-turned and lowered his altitude considerably so he could follow the spine of the hills back towards the night-side of the moon.

" used a heat seeker as a dumbfire missile to create interference with the panther's sensors didn't you?" HT asked incredulously. "I can't see anything with my sensors...HOW CAN YOU EVEN FLY?"

"I'm pretty good huh?" Titus grinned beneath his helmet. HT just snorted.

"It's a wonder your head even fits in that helmet. Your ego is going to cause cerebral hemorrhaging if you're not more humble. You should try to be more like me." HT lectured in a voice that sounded grim. Can HT even get...worried? Woah.

Titus couldn't contain the grin and thrill that ran through his stomach as he hauled back on the control stick, pulling the Osprey up into the lower stratosphere, clear of the dust. Red plumes of brilliant light were pounding the large dust cloud, but when Titus popped out they stopped when the pilot realized that Titus had somehow managed to slip behind him.

Titus tightened his loop with practiced precision, neatly dodging just outside the effective arc of the Panther's rear turret-which was ignoring him at the moment. The ruby-red high powered laser was spitting small low-powered bolts in the direction of the incoming missile five, the missile was weaving up and down to the fullest extent of its tiny maneuvering jets would allow. It was a blue-white streak of death gaining steadily on the Panther's desperate retreat.

Titus grinned as he watched the Panther straighten out for a moment. The pilot was obviously hoping to give his rear turret more accuracy to shoot the missile down.

"Oh no you don't!" Titus grunted, flicking the small lever that would activate the index finger trigger on the front of his control stick. "HT divert any extra power we can spare into the plasma strafers." Titus took a quick peak at the range indicator, making sure he didn't wander into the killing arc of the rampaging missile or the panther's laser, before he opened fire.

Titus' finger curled around the trigger delicately, so as to not cause any movement of the controller that might skew his aim. The cockpit filled with a high-pitched thrumming as small red-gold molten balls of plasma took flight towards the panther, effectively flanking its retreat away from the missile.

He was forced to acknowledge that the pilot had excellent reflexes, in an instant he had cut his afterburners and tried to gain some altitude. It was a mixed success. The sudden upward movement just happened to coincide with missile five's upward evasion—the red plume seared through the missiles payload, the resulting detonation was unimpressive, as the missile just crumpled and imploded in a disappointing anti-climax. Titus grinned when he realized what had happened. While the pilot of the Panther had managed to avoid all of the missile's shrapnel, his desperate maneuver had not completely saved him from the plasma strafers.

Small bits and pieces of the panther's port wings started flaking off from a blackened charred hole that had appeared. A clean hit. HT was chuckling, as if sensing victory, he had run out of snide comments...for once. Then the pilot did something absolutely stupid.

Titus squeezed the trigger again, goosing his throttle to close the distance rapidly. The pilot panicked then, he tried to pull up. Titus grimaced as the damaged wing on the Panther's damaged side started vibrating uncontrollably as it tried to resist the moon's gravity in vain. Bits and pieces of metal and delicate electronics were shearing off of the damaged fighter like tiny escape pods might from a giant battleship.

HT of course, couldn't resist one last snide remark. "I'm glad I'm not his computer."

Titus grimaced, he had to remind himself that this was not a real battle. But if it had been his opponent's cockpit would be filled with smoke and the haze of red and orange alarm lights and the blare of nauseating klaxon alarms ringing in his ears. Titus shook his head and altered his course slightly to juxtapose his targeting reticule over the damaged fighters long downward spiral.


A loud blaring noise suddenly roared in Titus' ears. Titus craned his head sharply, frantically scanning empty space. "HT WHERE?"

"Missile six is hot! It's got a lock on us and bearing down on us, 170 degrees lateral, thirty depression, marking it on your radar screen! Advise you go to afterburners immediately."

"What!?" Titus snapped "I thought it was dead!" he swore loudly as he swung the small versatile fighter around to try and get a visual on the missile's white-blue trail. "Just detonate it! It's our frecking missile!"

"What? You don't think I haven't already tried? I'm a tactical computer, not a microwave!" HT reprimanded sharply, his voice rising in intensity with panic. Can a computer even panic? Titus wondered to himself. Then, what the hell is a microwave?

"Well... try again!" Titus said, and depressed the small afterburner toggle. The engines roared to life for a few seconds then stuttered once and quieted down to normal levels again with a sick coughing. "What the hell? WHATS WRONG NOW?" Titus roared.

"I don't know! I don't know! I'm scanning now—oh here. HA! That awful afterburner turn you did earlier severed the pressure fuel hose. Pressure is down to 87Kta and falling slowly. Got another plan?"

Of all the things to go wrong... "I'm thinking!"

"THINK FASTER!" the computer shouted frantically.

The cockpit was silent as Titus dove towards the moon surface. "THIS IS NOT HAPPENING. I WAS GOING TO WIN DAMMIT!!!!" Titus roared, he dove sharply, "I'm going to try and lose it in the canyons-"

"Bad idea!" HT snorted, "You've lost lateral movement on the left remember? Or do you like scrambled eggs that much?"

Titus gritted his teeth, resolutely pushing the control stick downwards. "I'll...uh... think of something."


"HT turn that damn missile alarm off!"

"Titus, that's not the missile alarm! Well it is, but not the one you're thinking about! "

"WHAT?" Titus yelped. He risked a quick glance at the radar screen. The small yellow blip closing fast was the missile, but approaching from the opposite direction, lumbering much slower was... "Oh shoot. I had forgotten about him."

"Panther coming in hot! He's trying for a lock with his last missile."

"Damn. He can still fly in that scrap-heap? Screw weapons, divert all power to engines and dump the last missile, it'll only slow us down! NOW HT!" Titus roared as he slid into the nearest trench. First a right bend, he had flown this before, he could do this. Next was a sharp left. With deft reflexes Titus managed to roll the ship completely sideways, so his wings were vertical and pulled up hard.

"We're gonna...die?" HT asked as the Osprey's underside scraped loudly on the rough outcroppings of lifeless grey rock.

Titus' head rattled inside his helmet, he gripped the throttle and controller grimly as his teeth rattled. "YEEEEEEEEEEHAWW" he screamed outrageously loud in the confined space as the Osprey bounced up off the sharp corner and into the next straightaway. "Am I good or WHAT?"

"TITUS THE MISSILE!" HT only had a second to warn his pilot. Titus twisted his head to look behind just in time to catch the deathly pale white-blue missile trail as it expanded in his vision, darkening the bubble cockpit to tomb-like quality in an attempt to preserve the pilot's vision.


Everything went black. The sound of the engines had ceased, as had the bright glare of the missiles propulsion. There was...silence. He had...lost. Titus slammed his curled fist into the screen in front of his, white-hot needles tore back up through his wrist and elbow. "DAMMIT! I HAD HIM, DAMMIT. ITS NOT FAIR!!" Stupid, stupid tears wet his cheeks. It just wasn't fair. Nothing was with his life. He was so...stupid; a pathetic excuse for a pilot. Kimmel and Jeckt had been right after all, and that hurt the most. Titus slammed his head forwards in his misery. The world spun for a second as his head bounced off the controls in front of him. Then everything really went black.


The Broken Pegasus Wings Saga Continues...

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