Flight of the Blue Dragon

by Tim Gibson

          Gorgotha was a desert planet, mostly red sand and burnt-orange rock, ruled by lizardmen stuck in the sword-and-chainmail era. Cold-blooded and rather brutish, the lizardmen never advanced. They shared the planet with large, prehistoric-type reptiles. Certain shapes bred true on multiple worlds – the basic reptilian design was so efficient that it appeared on many planets. The largest reptiles of Gorgotha were similar to those of Earth’s ancient past – testament to the effectiveness of a carnosaur’s basic body shape. No comet struck Gorgotha’s past to wipe them out. Lizardmen ruled a planet full of lumbering, giant reptiles. With their ability to make swords, armor and bows, and their skill at tactics and strategy, the lizardmen conquered their planet.      

          About 11 million years ago the first race to conquer the stars found a galaxy ripe for the taking. The Amoeba Empire – a respectably peaceful race that loved to explore and eat, and eat, and eat – expanded quickly. They made one mistake – they gave their robots too much autonomy. Their first robot rebellion was devastating but they survived. Their second robot rebellion, more of an AI problem, took out half their planets but they put down that as well. Getting their pseudopods on food occupied most of their attention so they made only dumb bots from that point on, machines good at jet manufacture and repair but incapable of independent thought, extrapolation or free will. Dumb bots couldn’t even generate random numbers.

          The Amoebas ruled for about a million years until the Octopoid Empire bumped into them in space. It was hate at first sight. Soon there were no more Amoeboids in the galaxy – the Octopoids wiped them out.

          For about 10 million years the Octopoids ruled much of the galaxy. Eight tentacles, soft gelatinous body and a large round eye on each side of their heads, the Octopoids conquered space and were so vile, so terrible in their wanton war-lust that the other races of the galaxy banded together to fight them and were still defeated. Alone in the galaxy the Octopoid ships roamed, exploring and conquering. Hated by all star-faring species, the Octopoids fought magnificent battles and conquered each star system they came to.

          Much of their success was due to their fighter pilots. Most races could only tolerate 9Gs. The Octopoids had evolved at the bottom of their ocean, under crushing gravity, and could withstand 12Gs. Their fighter pilots pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat many times and ultimately exterminated every race they came across, no matter how peaceful or beautiful the other aliens were.

          When they spilled over into the adjacent galactic spiral arm – the one containing the Earth – they moved from planet to planet, always winning. That spiral arm offered less resistance and provided more open space for the Octopoid Empire to explore. A good cephalopod pilot loved nothing more than to explore the galaxy in a single-seat fighter – free, all-powerful and with mysteries all around him or her just waiting to be discovered.

          Unfortunately for them, solar radiation reduced their ability to reproduce. As the centuries ticked by they had fewer children. While the DNA strands of most animals were a double helix, the Octopoid DNA was 7 strands braided around each other. The map of the Octopoid genome was so complicated that even with their magnificent science they could not clone themselves.

          To the other races the Octopoid science was unfathomable and their technology supreme yet the cephalopods were unable to reproduce because of the solar radiation of their long galactic explorations. The Octopoids discovered Earth as their civilization waned and they needed slaves. On Earth it was the year 30 BC and a cephalopod ship landed on the Peloponnesian peninsula. They took slaves to at least 2 different planets – the ocean world of Viridescent and the desert world of Gorgotha.

About 1,000 years later the Octopoid Empire collapsed and the humans on Viridescent were free. On Gorgotha the numerically superior lizardmen naturally enslaved them, using them to work the fields, plant crops and build great statues of their reptilian masters. The chainmail-clad lizardmen ruled the planet with a cold-blooded grip, enforcing their laws and keeping the human population in chains. Some humans were pitted in mortal combat against reptilian gladiators for the amusement of lizardmen. While the galaxy may have been at peace, on Earth and on Gorgotha humans fought with chainmail and swords.

          Sadly for the galaxy, on a desert planet called Epsilonikos-4 a race of reptiles discovered spaceflight and took to the stars, conquering everything and spreading misery wherever they went. Thus the Reptilian Empire was born. Earth and Epsilonikos-4 were on opposite sides of the galactic spiral arm and it would be a while before humans and the star-faring reptiles collided with each other.

          Roaming the galaxy at that time were 10 silvery machines, the Techtoid Robots. They had been given memory banks that could hold a million years of memory and that’s it. To whatever engineer had built them the robot would outlive him by a great deal and the million years probably had seemed like a long time. Thus it came to be that by the time the 10 silver Techtoid Robots discovered the Reptilian Empire they could not remember who built them or where they were from – they were more than a million years old. Every day they lost another day’s memory from a million years ago.

          The ten silver robots had one line of core programming they could not change and could never forget – protect life. Hence they had flown through the galaxy in single-seat fighters, protecting life forms, doing good deeds and inspiring god-like legends on a dozen planets. When they learned about the Reptilian Empire and what they had done, the Techtoid Robots taught the other intelligent life forms of the galaxy everything they could, from jet engines to chemistry, physics, metallurgy, munition development and whatever aspects of spaceflight they could learn. It was never enough. No matter how much military technology the 10 silvery robots gave to a pre-spaceflight planet, the whole place got conquered by the Reptilian Empire if it was an ocean world and destroyed if it was not.

          Eventually the Techtoid Robots discovered Gorgotha and they changed their tactics. They conquered the planet. There was some bloodshed and regrettable killing but the planet had no chance otherwise. Descending from orbit in their single-seat fighters the 10 silver robots flew over the cities, surveyed the landscape and slaughtered the lizardmen, almost down to a man. Or lizard. Regardless, the galaxy was a violent place, non-reptilian civilizations were winding down and battles raged between the stars as one advanced civilization after another was destroyed by the Reptilian Empire.

          The robots wiped out every reptile on Gorgotha and there the humans became the dominant life form for the first time, free of the yoke of the lizardmen who had always oppressed them. The 10 silver robots were forming an interstellar alliance – called the Techtoid Empire – and Gorgotha, whether it liked it or not, was the first planet to join. The humans of Gorgotha became foot soldiers and factory workers, helping to build jets that some of their people could one day fly in combat. The Reptilian Empire had not discovered Gorgotha yet but it was only a matter of time.

          On the other side of the galactic spiral arm the Reptilian Empire secured one victory after another. Only reptiles – which appeared on many worlds – were spared by the Reptilian Empire, and not because of altruism or affection. The members of the Reptilian Empire bred with the reptiles of other planets, creating new designs with random traits – the offspring of the Reptilian pilots could be highly intelligent, ruthless, cunning or stuck with animal-like intelligence. The Reptilian Empire had no shortage of soldiers, pilots, scientists and factory workers.

          A few decades later the 10 Techtoid Robots discovered Faelis-9, a planet full of intelligent, bipedal cats. Walking upright like humans they welcomed the 10 fighter jets that drifted in for a landing in their biggest city. The Faelisians were peaceful, inquisitive and loving – just entering the industrial age themselves and curious about the galaxy. The beautiful, furry, peace-loving cats at first welcomed the robots that landed and climbed out of their cockpits.

          That changed when the 10 silver robots announced that Faelis-9 was the second planet to join the Techtoid Empire. The formerly peaceful cats resisted and there was some bloodshed as the stubborn furries fought against the technologically superior force. The 10 robots could strafe from orbit with their laser cannons, easily destroying any crude guns the cats built. There were some regrettable deaths but it was necessary – the Reptilian Empire would show no mercy when they arrived one day. The furries realized they had no chance against jets that could fire upon them from orbit and Faelis-9 joined the Techtoid Empire.

          A few decades later the 10 silver robots showed up on Earth and announced, in pleasant voices, that the Earth had been absorbed into the Techtoid Empire. By the Earth’s calendar it was the year 3051. There were some deaths as humanity resisted but it was hopeless. Soon mankind adjusted to their new position in the Techtoid Empire and enjoyed the benefits. Advanced medical technology, cleaner energy, better weapons, faster computers, safer jets – it wasn’t so bad. And always the 10 Techtoid robots maintained that it was for the best and that one day when they bumped into the Reptilian Empire mankind would understand.

          The Techtoid Empire comprised the 10 Robots, Earth, Faelis-9 and Gorgotha. The 10 silvery robots had the best science but possessed no factories or planets of their own. The robots were the brains of the empire, each with an IQ of about 300. Earth’s factories were turned to total war production after they viewed videos of the Reptilian Empire’s many space victories. Faelis-9 mostly manufactured ammunition, spare parts and infantry weapons. Gorgotha was still in the sword-and-chainmail age – just recently free from lizardman slavery – and they mostly contributed manpower to the Empire.

          On the other side of the galactic spiral arm the Reptilian Empire surged outwards, unstoppable. It all began on a wet, swampy, hot world called Epsilonikos-4, a steamy world full of predators. There a race of reptiles fought each other over the centuries, only the smartest and strongest surviving to fertilize a female’s eggs. Their warriors loved warfare and thirsted for the glory of combat. They could not resist a challenge from another of their species — it was in their DNA. When they were in their swords-and-chainmail age they battled it out regularly, ensuring that the fittest males had the most children. By the time they reached the stars they were as intelligent as humanity, equally good at engineering and physics and terribly more ruthless. The reptiles loved to fight and were good at it — evolution made it so.

By the time the reptiles achieved space flight the Octopoid Empire was gone and their wreckage littered the nearby planets. It almost wasn’t fair – as the Reptilian Empire conquered one planet after another they found computers, jets and tanks from the old cephalopods, giving their technology a boost. It augmented their scientific advances and helped them crush other nascent space-faring races.  

          By the Earth calendar, in the year 3072 a starship full of humans made contact with a Reptilian star destroyer. The Reptilian and Techtoid Empires had met. As the silvery robots had predicted, it was instant and total war. The combined might of the 3 planets and their silvery robotic masters stood up to the Reptilian Empire and it was disastrous. The Techtoid Empire fought bravely and suffered one interstellar defeat after another. Starships full of humans sacrificed everything to slow the relentless advance of the Reptilian Empire. Eventually the war made its way to Gorgotha where a young man named Caldeluvia, a native of the planet, climbed into his F-37 Tasmagoria single-seat fighter to fight for his homeworld.

Caldeluvia of Gorgotha walked across the hot tarmac, sand blowing everywhere. His new jet waited for him with an open canopy. The war wasn’t going well and he was personally going to change that. He settled into the cockpit and dumb bots strapped him in, connected his oxygen mask and did his pre-flight check. The bots withdrew – intentionally made too stupid to rebel – and he lowered the canopy. On Gorgotha a tasmagoria was a desert mirage, a mix of heat and rising thermals that could appear from out of nowhere and a fitting name for a fast fighter.

He throttled up, released the brakes, taxied onto the runway and engaged full afterburner. It was his first flight – after 2 years of nothing but computer simulations they put him in the jet and let him know a small Reptilian space carrier was on its way. His first time in an airplane was also his first flight and would be his first battle. He didn’t mind – he thirsted for battle after the 2 years of training.

At 140 miles an hour – the jet’s parts had been manufactured on earth and assembled on Gorgotha so the speedometer was calibrated in mph – he pulled back the stick and lifted off. Before him lay sand, cacti, rock and arid scrubland dotted with the graves of the lizardmen. They had tormented he and his family until, when Caldeluvia was still a child, the robots came and ruthlessly killed the lizardmen. Learning about the galaxy had made that act seem perfectly logical – and terrifying. The silver robots were dedicated to protecting life and they felt it necessary to conquer planets and absorb them. After watching videos of the interstellar battles, which the Techtoid Empire always lost, it made sense.

He flew at mach 2 over the hot sands of his planet, seeing it from the air for the first time. It was a desert planet, punctuated with small lakes, cacti groves and lots of snakes. He had roamed much of it on foot on his days off, sword in hand, brass chain mail shining in the sun as he hunted down the last of the lizardmen.

Strapped into his jet, Caldeluvia accelerated upwards and bored through the atmosphere. He flew a hot new F-37 Tasmagoria, a sleek fighter from Earth, the mother world. Clouds whisked by as he broke mach 2.5 and Caldeluvia entered orbit, searching for his flying aircraft carrier with his radar. It showed up about 400 kilometers away.

Soon he lined up on the flying aircraft carrier. The Blue Dragon was a flying wing, a triangular jet with a wingspan of 200 feet. Capable of flying in both space and air, the design ferried jets into battle across the Techtoid Empire. The bay inside was for repairs and 20 jets sat in neat rows on top, ready to launch if Reptilian jets showed up. Made of mostly titanium, it had a force field to keep a bubble of oxygen around it and a gravity generator to keep the jets from drifting off.   

          He was about to land on it for the first time and so far the flight had been just like in the simulator, although he was a little low. He pushed the throttle forward with his left hand. His Tasmagoria rose, its nose slightly up, and he was again in good position. Before him the aircraft carrier grew larger, his orange planet a giant sphere below. He came in a bit fast and touched his rear main gear down on the numbers, braking hard. Several robots launched magnetic cables that clung to the hull of his jet and slowed him down, the robots leaning back as they were dragged along with his speeding jet. Near the end of the runway he came to a halt and the robots retracted their magnetic cables and refueled his jet.

          He stayed in the cockpit even – as per regulation in this case – as a silvery robot approached. It was one of the 10 Techtoid Robots, a machine over a million years old. Caldeluvia raised his canopy and waited, wondering what a robot pep talk would be like.

          The ancient robot pressed a button on the main gear and a ladder extended from the jet to the ground. The robot ascended and spoke in its clear, almost musical voice. “Caldeluvia, I hereby promote you to the rank of Captain.”

          Caldeluvia nodded, unsure of how to act. Were thanks in order? Did the robots have emotions? It hadn’t been covered in his flight training. “I will do my best sir.”

          “A reptilian squadron is headed here to destroy your homeworld and the battle should commence in less than an hour.”

          “I thought about this moment a long time, sir,” Caldeluvia said. “My parents were in chains – literally – until you arrived. You set us free. I won’t disappoint you.”

          The robot nodded. “Our carrier has 20 jets. The reptilian carrier has 40 jets on it but don’t fret. You only have to get 2 kills.”

          Caldeluvia smiled – he had heard the robots had an odd sense of humor. The F-37 and the Reptilian Serpentos were about equally matched in a dogfight. Still the pilots of the Blue Dragon had to hold the enemy off. In their relentless march across the galaxy the Reptiles destroyed all non-water worlds, cracking them from orbit and moving on. Water worlds were invaded since the Reptiles laid their eggs in shallow rivers. Thus only the defenders of ocean worlds received a chance to repel an infantry invasion and make the enemy pay for every inch of terrain. Caldeluvia’s first fight was one he had to win. “I’ll get more than two kills sir.”

          The robot master nodded and walked away. Caldeluvia lowered the canopy and waited. His instincts told him he should launch at the last second to have maximum fuel when the battle started. His head told him he should launch right away to get a decent position before the battle started and to get up to a good speed before making his first pass at the enemy. He knew from simulator work that in an air battle one seldom ran out of fuel – he either died or the dogfight was over before that happened. Modern air combat was usually decided after the first couple of turns.

          Ten minutes later Flight Control ordered him to launch. It was time to do or die – his first flight and his first air battle. The air traffic computer permitted him to taxi and he moved into position. Magnetic rails under the flight deck snagged his front gear and he was locked into place. With his engine at full throttle he released the brakes and pressed the launch button. The magnetic rail yanked his jet forward, from 0 to 140 miles an hour in 5 seconds. That part was not like the simulator. In seconds he was away, climbing on afterburner and surging upwards.

          When he could focus on the instruments again he scanned them, found nothing amiss, deactivated afterburner and turned toward other F-37s flying a few kilometers away. Below him was his beautiful orange planet, the place of his birth, the rock he would die defending if necessary. Behind him the Blue Dragon dwindled and above him was limitless space, the stars like jewels in the velvety emptiness. He mated up with the other jets and together they orbited their planet, picking up speed on military thrust – maximum throttle without afterburner.

          Together the 20 pilots orbited the planet, waiting for the enemy ships to arrive. As long as each of them got 2 kills before dying they could pull it off. Caldeluvia smiled – it was going to be a piece of cake.

          The enemy fleet arrived. A quick radar scan told everything – 2 reptilian destroyers, 1 heavy carrier with 90 jets and 1 space battleship. It would be a piece of cake alright, for the enemy. Without preamble or discussion the battle was joined.

          Caldeluvia flew straight at the enemy, spiraling in as lasers from the Reptilian battleship and missiles from the fighters flew past him. His instructors had always said it was in the first turn that he would know what his opponent was made of. A rival that turned hard against him was brave and looking to fight. An enemy that sped away after the merge, instead of turning to fight, was either a weakling, out of ammo or not looking for battle.

          As Caldeluvia and his comrades passed the swarm of enemy jets each one turned against them, the reptilian fighters trailing cones of blue flame from their afterburners. There were jets everywhere and he knew from simulator work it was hopeless. Rarely did an F-37 Tasmagoria win against 2 Reptilian fighters, especially not against the newer Serpentos class which was what he was fighting against. And he was outnumbered 1 to 4

          The Serpentos was in some ways better than the F-37. The reptilian jet had an infrared sensor in the nose better than any doppler radar and the engines burned at a higher temperature than anything the Techtoid Empire produced. The problem was the Reptilian Empire controlled much of the galaxy and combed the planets in their sphere of influence for old Octopoid technology and crashed jets from more advanced species. Millions of years ago the Octopoids had wiped out dozens of species, some more advanced, and the wreckage of those air battles littered the galaxy. Some jets drifted through space, silently waiting to be found and many orbited the planets they had died defending or lay in pieces on ancient runways, resting where they had been blasted.

          Caldeluvia pulled a Double Spinning Loop, pressing the foot pedals to yaw left and right, enemy laser beams lancing by the cockpit the whole time. It was hopeless. They were outnumbered and there was no force in the galaxy that would let 20 F-37s defeat 90 Reptilian Serpentoses. Already his fellow fighter pilots were dying, their F-37s detonating as beams of concentrated light cut through their armor. Caldeluvia turned his nose to the enemy carrier and engaged his afterburner, doubling his thrust at the cost of a 9-fold increase in fuel consumption.

          A single Blue-tailed Serpentos caught him in 1v1 that he didn’t have time for. The Reptilian pilot was good – the Reptilian Serpentos did a Rolling Lead Turn, cutting off Caldeluvia’s escape. Time was of the essence. Caldeluvia pulled a Yawing Split-S and fell in behind the reptile. One good burst with his laser guns and the Reptilian jet broke up in a burst of electricity, shrapnel and bright light.

          On his way to the enemy carrier Caldeluvia glanced around to see how the battle was going. All around him F-37s were evading, running or dying. A Serpentos got on his tail and fired, the beams missing by a scant amount and stabbing the darkness ahead of him. He had a mission – didn’t the reptiles know he was on a schedule? He pulled a high-energy Spiral Climb, hoping to lose his pursuer in the messy dogfight raging all around them. The Serpentos stayed on his tail, gaining on him despite his engines running at maximum RPMs.

          A rolling horizontal loop spit the Reptilian fighter in front of him and he gunned it, the enemy jet’s wing falling away before the entire thing was consumed in electricity and sparks. For a few seconds the way was clear and Caldeluvia pressed the attack against the enemy carrier. Several Serpentoses shot at him from behind, the beams so close the inside of his cockpit lit up. He rolled his jet in a precise spiral, still heading toward the enemy carrier, flying through dozens of enemy laser beams. A touch from any one of them would have cut through his jet.

          The enemy carrier loomed close. Like nothing the Techtoid Empire built, it was essentially a giant hollow cylinder with wings, a tapering nose and a ring of engines in the back. The Reptilian jets clung to the inside of the cylinder, taxiing around without falling away thanks to their artificial gravity generator. Slots in the front and back allowed ingress and egress and already a few Serpentoses emerged from the enemy carrier.

          Reptilian tactics didn’t leave much room for defensive thinking. Their usual mode of operations was to station a battleship next to every aircraft carrier and attack a planet with every jet they had. It was a good system and would be tough to beat.

As Caldeluvia closed in on the enemy carrier, missiles from the battleship streamed toward him. He had planned to turn 90 degrees to each missile, evading each one as if it were a series of 1v1 battles, but the reptiles made a mistake. The huge missiles released by the battleship were flying in a swarm.

          Caldeluvia faced them head-on and opened fire. If his plan failed he was dead. The thought only made his hands steadier. Flying as if his life depended on it he cut into the centermost missile with his laser cannon and when it blew it detonated the rest of the missiles. There was no time to pull up and make a second run. Already Reptilian jets were on his tail, stabbing away at him with their lasers.

          He flew through the cloud of fire, electricity, debris, sparks and white light, his jet contacting enough metal shards that his canopy cracked and air hissed out. Debris slid across his wings, cutting furrows into the metal. Still he bore on, flying on afterburner toward the enemy vessel. Around him the inky blackness of space was broken by the afterburner of jets in mortal combat with each other and the stabbing of bright red laser beams.

 A Serpentos attacking Caldeluvia

          Aiming at the spot just in front of the engines – intel said the fuel lines were there – he opened up with his internal laser cannon, holding the trigger down and giving it a good long beam. The Reptilian carrier blew up, shards flying away from the explosion. Those he had to dodge, flying between them, threading the needle and weaving between vast sections of the destroyed ship.

          He turned his attention to the enemy battleship and 3 Reptilian fighters jumped him. With a Skidding Yaw turn he got on the tail of one of the jets and took it out with his cannon, the Serpentos engulfed in a satisfying explosion. The other 2 jets bracketed him, one behind him on the left and one behind him on the right. A turn in either direction would put one on his tail.

          Caldeluvia pulled an afterburner-assisted Split-S, the reptilian jets getting closer on account of their superior engine thrust. When he figured they were about to get a gun kill he executed a Rotating Immelmann, flipping his jet end over end at the top of the loop. It worked – by virtue of their higher velocity the 2 enemy jets were spat out in front of him and he gunned both, their fighters adding to the debris that spun away from the space battle.

          Turning his guns on the enemy battleship he knew he had one chance. The reptiles were not dumb – they were experts in military thought, masters of strategy, air battles, tactics and all things that involved killing. Every vehicle and every piece of military equipment had a weakness though.

          As panels on the Reptilian battleship slid open, revealing the needle-nosed missile snouts, Caldeluvia opened fire in the 1.3 seconds before they launched. He knew how much time he had because he had studied everything the silver robots knew about the enemy. His laser beam hit the slender nose cone of one of the missiles and it detonated, taking the other missiles out with it and ultimately the battleship.

          The Reptilian armada retreated, off to meet up with one of their many other fleets. Caldeluvia returned to his carrier, found his hydraulics were out and slid his F-37 into a gear-up landing, skidding sideways and almost sliding off the front of the Blue Dragon.

          Summoned to the bridge of the Blue Dragon he waited patiently as they pinned a medal on him. A silvery, magnificently-wrought robot looked him in the eye – another of the original 10 Techtoid Robots. “Well done, son. Now return to your jet and prepare for your next battle. “

          Caldeluvia returned to his newly repaired F-37, launched, and found himself in another swirling dogfight against multiple Reptilian jets. He had never been happier.  

A crystal in the desert outside of Caldeluvia’s home