I slowly let my breath out, regaining the sense of my body after being cut off from my Starfighter. After opening my harness, I send a signal to the simulator, giving it the signal to open the hatch. Light flooded in, causing me to blink a few times before I pushed myself up, stepping out of the cockpit and into the main-chamber. I noticed that I was one of the last to leave my simulator and assemble in the middle of the room, ready for the almost inevitable dressing-down. That lust run, defending the Thermopylae, had either been a disaster or gone exactly as the Instructors had planned, possibly both. Hopefully, we’d get to take a shower before debriefing, just from the way my militarily short hair was sticking to my skull, I knew I had to be… fragrant.
Knowing that standing out was a good way to get the attention of the instructors, I hurried up, taking up position between Hoplite 6, Hootch, and Hoplite 8, Tiny. I was just in time, moments after I had taken my place the door opened and Flight Instructor Cordeck entered, his face as expressive as a slab of granite.
“Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Congratulations, you all died in a horrible manner.” he boomed, his voice powerful enough to serve as a sonic cleaning device.
“Get yourself cleaned up, debriefing in fifteen minutes, room 42.” he continued, before dismissing us.
The class quickly broke up, everyone hurrying to the shower-rooms, to get showered and into clean clothes. Part of me disliked the sonic showers, yearning for the comfort of a hot water shower, even if I knew that the itchy feeling they were giving me was psychosomatic. But I had grown up on Cornucopia 3, one of the major agricultural worlds, where clean water was abundant, allowing me the luxury to indulge in showers and baths. There had even been natural pools on my family’s land, where I could swim in the summer, an idea utterly alien to quite a few of my classmates.
I shook the thoughts of home off, focusing on the present, as I dressed myself. I had been at the Third Sector Starfleet Academy for almost two years now, but there was still a part of me that was a little homesick. But compared to fulfilling the dream of seeing the Galaxy, of riding the solar winds and bathing in the sea of stars, that homesickness was nothing. It had been my dream, ever since my father took me out into the dark fields, to the edges of our lands where there was no light pollution, and showed me what humanity had accomplished, the orbitals above our world. But what struck the strongest chord in my soul had been the idea that the light of some stars had started its journey to our planet before humanity had reached them, that, if we just had a powerful enough sensor, we would be able to watch those first contacts. It had been a feeling of awe at the vastness of space and humanities drive to conquer it.
I wasn’t the last one getting into the room and quickly found a spot, again sitting next to my wingman, Hootch. He was a lanky fellow from one of the orbital stations around a gas-giant in the Metallica-system, named for its abundance of heavy metals. When it came to emergency drills, he was one of the best in our class, as he put it, his people went through pressure-drills before being potty-trained and it showed.
“Hey Twitch.” he greeted me, using my callsign, given to me due to my restless and, well, twitchy nature. While I wasn’t too happy with it, it could have been a lot worse, for example some sort of allusion to the fact that my father was a farmer, a profession still seen as simple and backwards, thanks to various media depicting ancient life on Old Earth. Sure, my father used a large robotic combine to harvest his fields, farming dozens of square-kilometers, supplying high-quality food for thousands of people, but somehow, if people heard he was a farmer, they thought of mule-drawn plows and manual labour, not high-tech robots and complex programming.
“Hey Hootch.” I greeted back, looking up at his reddish nose, the reason for his name. Before either of us could continue the conversation, Flight Instructor Cordeck entered and everyone stood at attention. Here, I had a distinct advantage over Hootch, he was one of the tallest people in the room with a little over two meters, making him stand out, especially with his reddish hair. I, on the other hand, was a little small than Federation average, standing at just one sixty-five, allowing me to vanish between the bodies of my classmates. My dull, brown hair didn’t help, especially not in the short regulation bob it was cut in.
The Flight Instructor let us stand at attention for a moment before gesturing for us to sit down, before starting on the maneuver critique.
“Cadet Murray, want to explain to me how you managed to get your whole squadron killed?” he asked, sounding eerily similar to a truckload of gravel being dumped.
“We were outnumbered, Flight Instructor.” he answered, bringing up an, in my opinion, good point. While I had been unable to get a good reading on the second Heavy Cruiser’s Fighters, even the twenty-four fighters from the first heavy cruiser would have had us for breakfast. Hell, even just the squadron of Reapers would have been able to give us a good fight, even if we most likely would have won with the support of the Cruiser Thermopylae.
“And given that, you decided to split your squadron, excessabting the problem?” the instructor asked, his voice pitched in a way that silenced any objection.
“Cadet Horn!” the instructor then barked, addressing me.
“Yes, Flight Instructor?” I stood even straighter, if that was even possible.
“Care to explain your last stunt?” his voice was deceptively nice, friendly even. I didn’t trust it a single bit but there was even less of a chance to refuse.
“I evaluated my chances to escape as negligible, not with eight Reapers after me and the Heavy Cruiser in front of me. So, I decided to cause the greatest amount of damage I could before going out, hoping that the confusion might allow one of the others to escape.” I explained, my eyes staring straight ahead.
For a moment, there was only silence.
“You should get yourself some tickets for the lottery. Your stunt worked, not only did your first two torpedos get lost in the turbulence of your jump, according to the simulator, the moment before your Raptor broke apart, it managed to launch two more, both at short range. Congratulations, if that hadn’t been a simulation, you could claim the kills on two Heavy Cruisers.” I managed to keep my face expressionless, continuing to stare straight ahead. Internally, I was elated, my idea had worked better than I could ever have anticipated, making the best of a bad situation.
The Flight Instructor sounded almost pleased, not that I would have bet on it.
“There are two things you need to take away from this before we go into the detailed critique, first, there are fights that you cannot win. And the second, as demonstrated by Cadet Horn, sometimes, crazy works.”
With those words, he started the projector, going over the simulations of the day one by one, critiquing the orders, the flying, even our interpretation of the mission, making sure that none of us escaped unscathed. It was instructive, informative and necessary, allowing us to learn from mistakes that, if made in the real world, would cost the Federation a Starfighter worth a few million Federation Marks and, of course, our life. Something I wanted to avoid, so I listened eagerly, trying to learn not just from my mistakes but from those of others, taking notes to my personal computer, and generally paying attention.
The debriefing took a good two hours and by the end of it, any elation I had felt earlier was extinguished, especially when he had pulled up my maneuver from an outside perspective and I realised just how insanely unlikely it had been. When I had pulled out of my attack-run against the first Heavy Cruiser, the damaged, left wing of my Raptor had decided to divorce itself from the rest of the fighter, looking for its fortune elsewhere. When I had engaged the hyperdrive, moments later, the turbulence caused by it had ripped off the right wing of my fighter but somehow, despite all that, the computer had decided that I emerged where I did.
The odds for the maneuver to work had been abysmal, something the Flight Instructor drove home. At the same time, he made sure that everyone knew it had been a good call, as my chances to escape the Reapers behind me had been even lower. The take-home from the lesson seemed to be that sometimes, there were no good choices. Or something like that.