Zan stood waiting, holding onto the overhead grab-rail. She was getting restless along with the other riders. They knew it was coming; the ship had dropped back to normal space some time ago with klaxons blaring, signalling for them to prep for launch.

There was a shuffle in the room as more riders made it from quarters, the whole squadron was now crammed in the too small locker room, the nervous energy threatening to overwhelm them all. There was uneasy banter amongst some, the more experienced, but the younger and greener members were looking unsure of themselves. This was their first time out into the big black. They were away from friends and family, just out of the naval academy and had no idea what was to come.

They’d not move down to the holding pens until they were ready to launch in a few more minutes, once they’d been given the signal. Zan knew that right now the keepers were likely struggling with settling them and moving the fighting wing into place; making sure that everything was in order before the riders made their way though and got the excitement levels up again.

The bright white lights changed to a dull red glow and the room filed though the hatch, pulling the last parts of their EV suits into place with an easy click, most leaving their helmets hanging by a strap on the hip.

Zan could hear Adie ahead and her stride lengthened, he knew something was coming – they all did – growing restless the closer the riders got, if she was lucky he wouldn’t set the whole squadron off.

Within ten short minutes they were out in space, flying in perfect practiced formation.

The enemy was spread out ahead, their own fighters primed and ready. They would have the same goal – get though and attack the airlocks of the carriers and cruisers.

Head down Zan guided Adie towards the enemy, heading into the battle. His deep green wings spread wide with the occasional glint from the local sun, pushing them forwards with each beat, the twenty metre wings soundless in space as he extended his head forward.

Zan could see the enemy ships only via her helmet HUD – dark metal in dark space not visible to the human eye, but Adie would be able to home in on them, the flares of heat and infra-red in the distance fully registering for his sight.

With the reigns lose and dangling she let him find a route though, letting his skill and ability guide them. They were not here to engage in the dog fighting with the enemy, that was the task for the rest of the squad. Zan and Adie would be heading directly for one of the enemy ships and avoiding skirmishes and the enemy where possible, they already had their target where Zan would get into an enemy airlock, gain entry to a ship, and set it to blow with the aim to take a good chunk of ship with it.

Swooping between the enemy wings they made their way forward, Zan resorted to her blaster occasionally, more to make the other riders move out of their way when they got close than to engage.

One of the enemy crashed into them, forcing the pair to change direction. Adie rolled and grabbed out with his talons, pulling the other rider out of their saddle, his claws ripping though the delicate space suit and a jet of blood made the body tumble as he let go.

Zan fired her gun, grazing the wing of the enemies great beast, and with a split second thought they followed after it, a riderless dragon was a danger and unpredictable, uncontrolled and would wreak havoc in any battle.

His wings were beating, pushing against the non-existent space, action and reaction propelling them forward, Zan pressed herself flat as she could as Adie raced after the rogue. As they gained there was a flash ahead, the first enemy ship exploded, cannon fire starting to take its toll as Zans HUD flared with the launch of more enemy fighter ships. Her whole squadron moved to intercept, now with two fronts to fight.

The chatter increased in her ear as the pair joined the mêlée; his claws and jaws, her blaster joining the other agile dragon and riders in out manoeuvring and decimating the ships. All the while dodging the enemy dragons. Then the enemy fled, scattering and disengaging from the fight. It was less than a second before they realised they’d been led into a trap, the group stared to fan out and split as three broadsides hit, she saw her friends hit, felt the jolt as Adie took a strike to a wing. Tumbling he took a few moments to regain stability, just as the next volley hit the area. Zan could feel the strain though the saddle as Adie put all his energy into moving. Zan was glad she couldn’t see the bodies and death in space, there was no way much of the squad survived the shooting.

They swerved back to their target, away from the crossfire as the own cruisers entered the area, space would be full of live shells, laser and blaster fire and enough EMI to fry the electronics in her suit.

“Let’s not get distracted now.” she whispered to her partner, a rumble of acknowledgement went through him and into her abdomen.

They pulled close to their target cruiser, flying its length mere metres above its surface in search of the main airlock or any other vulnerable spot. Zan saw it before Adie, and pulling in the reigns guided him to a sensor array. They could get that first it would take a part of their shared net down, giving her comrades precious time to move in.

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