Well, here it is. I posted Mike’s first because his preface matter is better than mine… and I am lazy 🙂
To VOTE, simply vote in the “Comments” section of yer favorite one. Put the word VOTE somewhere in there so we know. Of course, feel free to comment on either/both. I was going to use a WordPress Poll, but that requires the creation of another account… I don’t want to put everyone through that.
For this rewrite, I decided it fitting I write a “beginning” as I just blogged about how to start stories. This would be the new start, if I were to seriously write this.
With that last thought in mind, I’m making a public proposal to my boy here: Mike, you wanna bang this bitch out?
Seriously, I just read yours and I think we can finish a book here. I’ll write the first half – Sky’s ascent into hero-hood, and you can write the descent – the “after.” We’ll do a chapter a month and we’ll post them here. Then, when all is done, we’ll get them edited and publish the whole work for as cheap as we can humanly make it available. Of course, we’ll need to have a discussion on point of view, but I think it could work!
Now *I* have thrown the gauntlet, my friend. What say you?
Sky Hawk: A Hawk Takes Flight
Everyone in the stadium watched with a collective held breath as the invading ships flew over head and engaged Earth’s defense forces. Smoke unfurled from the engines of the various craft and lasers bounced from vessel to vessel illuminating the clouds. Sharp explosions awakened the stunned onlookers. The people screamed and rushed for the exits.
Still processing the scene, Sky Hawkins stood with the rest of his team on the sidelines. Today was the big day. Today was the day he was going to quarterback his team into the state tournament. Today was the day he worked towards for so many months. Today was the day he planned to ask Beth to the winter dance. Today was-
His father’s voice ripped him from his thoughts.
“Sky!” his father said. “We need to go! Do you still park your bike at the Burger Palace?”
West Chicago High School’s parking lot was always a mess after each game. Sky learned when he was a freshman to find alternate locations to leave his bike so he could return home under a reasonable timeframe. Of course, the Burger Palace was also where the team invaded after most practices and games.
Fully awakened from his stupor, he said, “Yeah, why?”
His father’s face was a mask of concentration as he scanned the fleeing mob. “We need to get to the airfield,” he said.
Sky furrowed his brow and asked, “Why? Where’s mom?”
“She’s safe and she understands I have a job to do. Can you get me to the airfield on your bike?”
The stadium held sixty thousand seats but Sky stood on the bench to try and find Beth nonetheless. If what he knew about the rebels was accurate, everyone was in peril. The thought of Beth captured or killed was a disturbing one. They had just begun dating and he was excited to finally get close to his longtime neighbor. Plus, their first kiss was heart pounding.
“Sky!” his father said, pulling Sky down from the bench. “We don’t have any time! I told you, mom is safe.”
“Right,” Sky said as he quickly calculated the angles just like he would if he was throwing the ball to his receivers on the football field. “My bike. Up for a little run?”
As they dashed through the crowd towards the locker room exits, the gravity of their situation threatened to overwhelm Sky. He had heard about the wars on the border worlds, but an attack upon Earth was thought to be impossible. The rebels defeated the outer defense forces? And without warning? Sky knew enough about the war from his father to realize something didn’t fit, as his father was a trainer for the local reserve fighter squadron there in Chicago.
He glanced back at his father as they raced down the street, away from the chaos.
“Are you okay?” Sky called over his shoulder. “It’s only a few more blocks.”
His father nodded and attempted a smile but he didn’t respond. For Sky, this wasn’t even sweat-worthy. However, his father had a bum knee and was pushing sixty. Though he was in excellent shape for his age, running this hard and this fast on unforgiving pavement was a tall order – even for a war hero. As Sky returned his attention to the sidewalk in front of him, he shed his shoulder pads. They were just weighing him down and he guessed nobody from the other team would be attempting to tackle him anytime soon. Well, unless that ‘other team’ was rebel.
The battle in the sky looked more or less completed. Chicago’s anti-aircraft guns spat their death sporadically at the invaders, but the rebels owned the air. Where were Earth’s defenses? Were they just caught off guard?
The rebels began to bomb the city as father and son raced towards their destination. Downtown appeared to be taking the brunt of the attack at the moment, though Sky reasoned it was only a matter of time before the rebels pushed outwards. His breathing quickened from his own fear and not from his sprint through the streets. Was this the end? Had they lost the war?
“This is it!” Sky said as he turned into the small alleyway parking for the Burger Palace.
More rebel ships lanced overhead, very low to the rooftops. Sky instinctively crouched, though he knew they weren’t that low. His heart thumping, he had never been this terrified before. His childhood was a safe one but he always searched for a thrill. Football, the motorcycle and his frequent trips to detention all sated his hunger for a spark of excitement in his otherwise mundane life. None of his extreme acts of youthful defiance could have prepared him for the invasion of his home city. This wasn’t very thrilling. People were dying.
As he approached his bike, he looked to the air again. The rebels indeed owned the sky. Why weren’t they dropping nukes? Did they plan to occupy Chicago, Earth’s largest spaceport?
The magnetic wall lock beeped and flashed red on Sky’s first attempt to unlock it. Was the city under quarantine already? Sweat drenched his palms and his hands shook. If they couldn’t get the bike free, they’d be trapped.
No. He wiped his sleeve across his brow and then his hands on his padded pants.
“Try again,” he said to himself as he repeated his unlock code into the panel. This time, the lights flashed green and he pulled his bike away from the wall.
“Look out!” his dad yelled as he rounded the corner, fists pumping.
Moments later, a grating and thumping sound preceded a rolling car. The car crashed into the front of the Burger Shack. Shattered glass and chunks of concrete pelted the alleyway. Sky covered his head and crouched as the shockwave of debris washed over him.
His dad stood and dusted himself off. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m over here.”
Sky straddled his bike and rammed the starter. The vehicle rumbled in response and hummed its running tune. His dad eyed him analytically.
“I know, you never approved of my bike,” Sky said.
His father shook his head and said, “It’s not that. I’m just not sure I want to let you drive this one. The roads will be chaotic.”
Sky revved the engine and smiled. “Aren’t you the one who taught me to fly a plane? Don’t worry, I haven’t crashed this one yet.”
“Yeah. It’s the yet that make me worry,” he said as he climbed onto the bike and wrapped his arms around his son. “And in the air there are less things to crash into.”
“Well, besides the ground, I guess you’re right,” Sky said. “Ready?”
“Just head out to Route 88.”
“I know the way,” Sky said as he lifted his feet onto the pedal bars and entered the fray.
The streets were just as his father had predicted. Abandoned cars, smoke, craters from the rebel bombs and fleeing people all worked to block father and son from their goal: the expressway on ramp. Sky risked a few glances into the air and his heart thumped quicker each time. The rebels were expanding their bombing runs. Chicago’s streetlights illuminated themselves in response to the dark skies.
Sky weaved through the debris and vehicles and spied the expressway on ramp. Most of the pavement was torn, but he thought he could keep them balanced enough to make it.
“No,” his father said, “we’ll take the next one.”
Sky shook his head. “No time.”
He sped towards the wrecked on ramp and decided upon his angle. The bike sprayed pebbles and dust as it lurched forward. Sky maneuvered around and hit the sloping ramp with more speed than he anticipated. The bike wobbled. That all-encompassing fear before a crash seized his heart for a few seconds. With all his strength he kept the front wheel from buckling and held his course. Teetering on the edge, they slowed enough to make the angle and were soon on the freeway.
“Don’t ever do that again,” Sky’s father said into his ear as they hurtled past the few abandoned vehicles.
His heart resuming its life-giving beat, Sky said, “No argument from me, dad.”
“It looks like there was a crash back towards the city exits,” his father said. “We might get smooth sailing.”
Citing a phrase he appreciated from one of this linemen, Sky said, “Don’t predict what we can’t control.”
“Fair enough, son.”
Several groups of rebel ships flew overhead and Sky held his breath. Though their searchlights weren’t active, they were low enough to spot movement on the road. Fortunately, the rebels didn’t appear interested in one motorcycle on the expressway.
Sky and his father pulled into the airfield and gasped. Everything was ablaze. The control tower, many of the hangar bays and all ships on the airway. Now Sky knew why the battle in the air over Chicago was so decisive – only a handful of pilots escaped whatever happened at the base.
His father pointed and said, “Change of plans. Take me to hangar twelve.”
Without responding, Sky followed instructions. Part of him felt relieved. If the rebels already attacked here, the they likely wouldn’t return so soon. In many ways the base was a safe place.
Hangar twelve was mostly intact. A refueling truck had smashed into one side of the building but the roof and other walls appeared unharmed.
“Pull right inside,” Sky’s father said.
Three spacecraft waited for them – fighters by the look of them. Though Sky rarely visited the base, his father talked about it enough. These were older models of the newer Mercury class fighters.
As Sky dismounted from his bike he asked, “Mars class fighters?”
His father was already removing some equipment from a nearby locker. He shook his head and said, “No, these are Mercuries. They’re just fitted for pilot training.”
Sky cocked his head to the side as he examined the sleek yet powerful starfighter.
In response to his inquisitive look, Sky’s father said, “They have two seats.”
Sky approached the vessel and ran his fingers along the pointed nose. The titanium alloy was cool to the touch. The wings slanted downwards, as if they were burdened by their heavy missile payload. Ready for action, the vessel very much resembled a poised bird of prey.
Sky’s father positioned a boarding ladder next to the ship and handed Sky a flight suit and helmet.
“Put these on,” he said.
Realizing what his father intended, Sky said, “We’re going up there?”
As his father secured his own flight suit he said, “Command’s been hit and I have no idea what our status is. At the very least, we need to get mobile and contact Denver.”
Sky stepped into the flight suit and took comfort in the fact the ship had two seats. He was certain he would have vomited if his father had asked him to pilot one of the craft. Like his first game as the starting quarterback, that idea was just too full of unknowns for him. His stomach couldn’t handle it.
“Once we’re in the air,” his father said, “we can analyze the situation. Hopefully we have more birds incoming.”
Sky zipped his suit and forced a hollow smile. “Okay, dad. I’m ready.”
They ascended the ladder and his father hopped into the rear seat!
Sky’s stomach churned and he felt pressure at the base of his throat. He stopped.
“Let’s go, son! What’s wrong?”
Realizing his father meant him to pilot the craft, Sky hurled his breakfast all over the ladder and heard it splatter on the ground. He almost lost his grip but the sobering effects of his purge were already reinvigorating him.
He finished his ascent and climbed warily into the front seat. The aftertaste in his mouth reminded him of the sour milk and raw chicken shake he once ingested as a rookie player on the team.
“Alright,” his father said, “you’ve piloted before so this shouldn’t be much of a stretch for you.”
“I’ve never been in one of these!”
“Just settle down, son. I’ll take care of all the hard stuff from back here. Preflight is already done, I just need you to ease her out of the hangar for now.”
“Dad, I’m not-”
His father put his hand on Sky’s shoulder and calmly said, “Listen, son, I know you’re scared. Hell, I am too. But flying is in your blood. All we need to do is get airborne and I’ll help you navigate. Trust me, this bird is far smoother than the props you practiced on as a kid. You’ll be just fine.”
Sky’s hands shook and he was close to vomiting again. He closed his eyes and attempted to control his breathing. The wave of nausea passed.
“If you remember,” Sky said, “I’ve never actually landed a plane.”
After a short pause, his father said, “We’ll worry about that later.”
“And if we need to fight?”
Another pause. “What about all those video games you play? Point and shoot, son. Point and shoot.”
Though his father’s words didn’t calm his nerves in the slightest, he taxied the jet from the hangar as instructed. As they searched for a suitable runway, his father reviewed the radar and firing controls. Everything made sense but Sky wasn’t certain he’d be able to remember it all.
As they sat at the end of their chosen runway, Sky asked, “Why aren’t you piloting, dad?”
His father paused again, sighed and said, “If we were to get into a combat situation, your reflexes and eyesight are far better than mine. We’ll need those fractions of seconds to survive. This wasn’t an easy decision for me, son. I hoped to never have to watch you or your sister go off to war, nevermind being this close to watching it. But my first responsibility is to my country and this gives us the best chance of helping it.”
And there it was again – his father’s constant reminder that Sky and his sister were second place on their father’s score chart. His job came before them and that was a fact Sky was never allowed to forget. The constant move from home to home, the missed games and all the time apart served as constant reminders to that one fact.
No longer striving for his father’s attention, Sky narrowed his eyes and suppressed his tears. His father would sooner risk his only son before the security of his nation. He would send Sky into battle without hesitation. Sky’s life wasn’t as important as the safety of the nation. These new realizations sunk into Sky like the rebel bombs. He was shattered now that he realized the truth.
Sky wiped the few tears that had escaped from his cheeks and nodded. He punched the throttle and hurtled into the uncertain sky.