The Maneuver

Far off beneath the towering monoliths the ships rose slowly out of the dry hills like little gnats. It was just after dawn. Caud raised the scope to his eye and this gnats became like stiff grey birds, floating impossibly upward, plumes of sand swirling beneath them. They were rising with painstaking slowness, so as not to raise the clouds of dust that would be visible for miles after a normal takeoff. It was a difficult maneuver to pull-of; only the most skilled pilots could manage it. He signalled with his free hand to the men waiting a few paces down the hill. Two of them, Marug and Dheon rushed up and slumped in the sand next to him at the top of the hill, peering out towards the monoliths, searching for the ships. He handed Marug the scope. Marug scanned from side to side, stopped, nodded, and handed the scope to Dheon. Once they’d all seen the ships the returned back down the hill, then Caud picked up two large sticks they sued for the purpose and waved them in the proper signal to the ships hovering high up above their own group. He walked in circles, waving, until he heard the sound of the ships accelerating way into the sky. The ships had to move into position at once. They had maybe a minute to get above the enemy’s ships, so they could tail them without being seen. The would stay directly above where the enemy ships couldn’t see them, and would follow them all the way to their hidden base. Once they knew it’s location they could call in a strike, send in ground troops. They’d been trying to discover its location for months, but this time it was going to happen. Caud knew it. But then it all depended what happened in the next minute. The enemy pilots would be distracted while they completed the special takeoff, they wouldn’t see the ships moving into position above them. But once the enemy were up and flying they’d have their wits about them. Caud’s ships had tried to tail the enemy’s to their base multiple times, but every time the enemy seemed to detect them and with their smaller, more nimble ships, would evade them. Everything had to be perfect. That was why the ships couldn’t wait for Caud or the others on the ground.

What Caud did next was important too. He sat down on the sand and closed his esyes, tossing the sticks of to the side. He sat, searching, concentrating. It was too late, Caud’s ships would be too far away. But no, he just found them. Swiftly he focused on the frontship, on the pilot. And concentrated. And opened his eyes, in the pilot’s seat on the ship. He could see the enemy ships still far away and rising. He hoped desperately that not one of them would chance to look up and see the three ships tearing across the sky toward their position. And then he was about to be above them. He slammed off the rear thrusters with one hand and slammed on the forward thrusters to slow his ship with the other. The two ships behind him did the same and they pulled into formation above the three enemy ships below. The ships below were finally high enough. As one their thrusters started and they shot off, heading north-northeast. Caud and his other pilots were ready. They shot off only an instant behind the ships below them. Had Marug or Dheon made it? Caud concentrated but left his eyes open, focusing out toward the two ships flying close behind him. Yes, Marug had made it. So had Dheon. Each responded to him and he withdrew, returning his attention to the cockpit and his hands on the controls.

Everything after that went along almost too easily. They trailed the enemy’s ships for several hours. They enemy was clever. They didn’t fly directly to the base. Instead they switched directions several times, even beginning to practically double-back. But finally, a little before noon, there it was on the horizon. Caud thought to Dheon, instructing him. In a moment Dheon’s ship began to raise, slowly, then more swiftly above the other two in the formation. It would ascend until it was an invisible spec in the sky, ascend still further, then it would race back to their own command post to deliver the position of the enemy’s base. Caud felt a supreme sense of satisfaction. Finally, after months of frustration, success! He and Marug would descend above the enemy ships for a closer reconnaissance, and then race back southward, no longer caring if the enemy saw them. The Enemy ships began to slow and descend for landing. Caud and Marug did the same. Then Caud did something he could hardly resist. He reached his mind down, down into the cockpit of the enemy frontship. With the most delicate, careful touch he brushed against the mind of the pilot. Something about the unsuspecting mind he knew he’d find thrilled him. But what he found instead surprised him. The mind of the pilot seemed to be filled with a wild elation, a sort of exultation. It was far beyond the simple joy of a pilot returning home safely from a mission. What did this pilot have to be so elated with? And then he understood. He jerked the nose of his ship up and to the left, sending a blast of thought to Marug to do the same. But it was too late. A handful of rounds tore through the ship. Yet they had come from above. As his ship plummeted smoking towards the ground Caud understood. While his ships had been moving into position above the enemy’s, they enemy had moved another ship, maybe two, above his! Clever, very clever, was his last thought.