After they had locked Gromov down, he stared a few minutes at the shut door, still in doubt if the surroundings were real.
The details of the last development felt hazy, almost like a spectacle someone else went through; a mere illusion of intensive experience, toned down by the unrealistic touch of a movie, made in fever and hastiness.
Akane Anbi, Andrey Jerzinski, Major Milano, and most other pilots and gunners had perished, just a couple hours before, while he had survived, despite all odds, now having been cast like despicable villain into the prison cell.
Constrained by four walls, with all electronic devices taken away, including his communication wristband, he ended up in distressing silence, which forced him to replay the last dramatic bouts.
Colonel Steiner, probably driven by the horror of being blamed personally for the ongoing debacle, as if his career was the most substantial matter to consider there, did not want to take the chances and ordered to engage enemies immediately after the first wave had launched from the Space Station.
Ignoring protests of pilots, conveyed in half-hushed voices, as well as Major Milano’s telling demand for the colonel to repeat the order, Steiner did not waver and sent directly the first wave of fighters to delay the attackers, instead of having them wait for the regroup with following squadrons.
“And here we go again,” murmured Gromov for himself, watching the monitor in the preparatory room while Captain Chi and Chief of maintenance crew organized the deployment of the second wave.
“Is that unscrupulous bastard even for real?” he kept pondering while listening to futile and vastly ignored objections. To Gromov, it felt like an awful déjà vu.
After the third Andrey's death, about five years ago, when the deteriorating mental capacity of friend became more and more apparent, Gromov extensively scrutinized all Steiner's missions.
Although no blatant errors had surfaced, the analysis showed that Steiner encouraged aggressive, almost reckless tactics with very little consideration for the lives of the crews, putting them regularly on the survival edge, just to score more points in aftermath statistics.
In absolute numbers, the calculation rewarded destruction of all targets over anything else, so essentially Steiner only followed the prescribed battle protocol, perhaps in good faith that pilots with backups would return with brand new fighters.
After Gromov reported the results, the only response he had received, in a way, was the establishment of a committee, established to evaluate whether Gromov (with no red number on his sleeve) did not undermine orders since (perceived from a purely statistical point of view) his achievement stroke the higher-ups as extremely exceptional and suspicious.
The committee concluded that his flying style happened to be rather cautious, but not to the extent of open neglecting Steiner's orders, still, they officially recommended Gromov to adjust to the official policy.
Flabbergasted and far from convinced, Gromov strictly refused and offered resignation instead, which raised commotion among his peers who united under the rebellious flag to support his case, not only because of the captain himself but because of sheer Steiner's unpopularity.
Even though Steiner eagerly accepted the letter of resignation, or at least, was about to do it, the increased activity of Plantarians forced the headquarters to reevaluate the plans since the lack of skilled pilots became threatening, so Gromov had been reactivated and all the cause silenced.
The unspoken yet not overlooked uprising brought three results with Major Steiner transferred, Andrey Jerzinski and few others with similar syndromes gotten more medical attention with none of them coming back to the frontline, and Captain Gromov’s career having lost any vistas of further promotion.
But now, under the crises, Colonel Steiner reached beyond recklessness and evidently let loose the last frayed ends of sanity when he, with a resolution of a madman, omitted to regroup after the start and threw so insufficient forces to their certain annihilation.
“Let's show’em the courage of immortality!”
“He is clearly insane,” realized Gromov with the sensation of absolute hopelessness. He could only speculate what triggered the detachment from reality. Whether five red deaths, inscribed on the colonel's sleeve, or medicaments received in the hospital, or perhaps some creepy influence from the enemy.
No matter how hard Gromov sought for a solution, he could not see any.
Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.