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A short story by

Matt Forbeck

"We don't need to," Erik said. He knew how to handle himself in a dogfight, and for the first time today his confidence surged. The familiar rush of endorphins from engaging in midair battle felt just as great as he remembered. "We play the mutalisks here like Varg planned to play the whole force."

"Right!" said Olaf. "It's not necessary to challenge them all. We just need to draw them away from Baleog until he can get free."

"Exactly!"

Erik headed for a point to the far right of the bulk of the mutalisk flock. As he went, he started to let loose round after round of torpedoes. He didn't much care what they hit as long as they hit something. In such a target-rich environment, he knew they were sure to manage that.

As the first few torpedoes blasted apart a group of mutalisks that had been flapping too close to one another, Erik spotted another set of Lanzers zipping over his right shoulder. They found targets of their own and added to the mayhem.

"I can smell them!" Baleog said. "The zerg. They're ripping through my armor. They're coming for me!"

"Just hold on!" Erik glanced back over his shoulder to spy Olaf zooming up behind him, and the sight put a grin on his face. A huge flight of mutalisks that had been closing in on Baleog peeled off from that attack vector and set itself on Erik's and Olaf's tails instead. Their ploy had worked.

A scattering of glowing green glave wurms lanced through the sky. A few of them brushed close to Erik's viking, but none found their targets. The vikings were just too far away, and Erik aimed to keep it that way—at least long enough to give Baleog a chance.

"We bought you that time, Baleog!" Erik said into the comm system. "Use it!"

"I can hear them outside! They're tearing at my hull!"

"Punch it!" Erik said. "Go, go, go!"

For a moment, the comm went quiet, and Erik feared that roaches had destroyed Baleog's antenna. They might be tearing him to pieces, Baleog screaming his guts out, but Erik and Olaf would never hear a thing. Maybe he should think of that as a mercy.

Then the ice surrounding Baleog's craft sloughed away, and a third viking joined Erik and Olaf in the freezing air. Baleog roared in wordless triumph.

"I'm good!" Baleog said as he cleared the bug-filled portion of the sky. "Let's get out of here!"

The mutalisks were nimble little bastards, and they moved fast to hem the vikings in. The zerg had nothing on the terran craft when it came to sheer power, though. Erik and Olaf were able to evade the mutalisks' attacks until they could find daylight and break free. Soon enough, the pilots flew alone.

Once away from the zerg, they brought their craft around in a wide arc designed to intersect with Baleog's path, which curved to reach them too. Within minutes, they were flying in formation, with Erik at the point and the others at his wings.

Erik glanced at his rear-view camera to see the ruin of the ridge, the avalanche of ice and snow that had fallen at its base, and the wide column of smoke and steam still rising from where Varg's viking had exploded. He shook his head in disbelief. So much destruction in such a short time.

"Think that did the trick?" Baleog said.

"I certainly hope so," Olaf said. "I don't think we could survive another incident like that."

"I've got the only ship in one piece," Erik said. "I could go back and give them hell."

"Forget that, rookie," Olaf said. "You saved my life there. You try to return, and I'm coming with you."

"I think we've lost enough vikings for today," said Baleog. "Let's head home—for as long as it's still there."

"I'll bet they left the taps open at the tavern," said Olaf. "Drinks are free until doomsday."

"Right," Erik said in a solemn voice. With luck, Kyrie and Sif would be safely away before he and the other vikings made it back to the base, and they'd have some time to kill before the last transport left. "We have fallen friends to toast, and their tale to tell."

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