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There was still plenty of activity in the Starfighter-area, with technicians making sure that the Fighters were in good condition. A couple were working on the Fighter I had flown earlier and when I walked over, the warrant officer that was directing the activity turned to me and saluted. I quickly returned the salute and told him to be at ease, not yet used to being the higher ranked person. If I were on track to become a naval officer, I would have learned more about actually leading people but Starfighter-command had a lot less of that, as everyone serving in the command was an officer, while the technicians were enlisted in the navy. It was a little weird but it was tradition.

“Petty Officer Gamero, I just wanted to have a short talk about the maintenance of this Starfighter. It was assigned to me for the next two months and it seems that the normal pilot has a few peculiarities when it comes to their preferred settings.” I explained, keeping my face impassive. I had already decided that I wouldn’t even try to call out the fact that some of the changes couldn’t have been anything but a deliberate test, instead I had decided to play dumb and accept the tests. The enlisted who maintained the Starfighter were most likely ordered to change the settings in those ways or to add deliberate tests so calling them out was pointless anyway and would make me look foolish. Now, I gave everyone a fig-leaf to cover themselves with, without running into more tests.

“Cadet Horn, it would be useful if we had direction on your preferences. What did you have in mind?” he asked and I was almost certain that there was humour sparkling in his eyes. Again, I ignored it and focused on the relevant topics.

Using a maintenance tablet, I pulled up the relevant settings of the Starfighter and we went through them one by one, making sure that they would be in a way that was useful for me. In a way, I was telling these guys nothing they didn’t already know and, at times, they suggested ways that would make the Starfighter more efficient so I learned a few new tricks. I had studied the Raptor’s systems in depth for the last four years, they were the primary Federation Starfighter after all, but compared to the technicians that were working on them day in and day out, I was still a novice. Or rather, I had the theoretical knowledge but their knowledge had been tempered by the fires of reality.

But I didn’t feel bad about it, I had made the firm commitment that I would learn as much as I could during these two months, hoping that it would make me a better pilot in the future. That it also might give me a great evaluation at the end of the cruise was important but not as important as knowledge and abilities that might save my life out there.

We talked for a good hour and I felt that it was a very productive hour, they continued to work during it, so they hadn’t lost too much time and I had noticed that both the naval officer in charge of the technicians and Commodore Ryker had observed us with what I thought was approval in their eyes. Hopefully, the talk had demonstrated that I neither took the maintenance crews for granted nor was a complete fool regarding the tests they had been involved in. It would make life easier for me if I could rely on them to do their job.

As I was leaving, I decided to get one small jab in, asking them if I would have to check the settings in the future or if they had received my message, to which the Petty Officer nodded, telling me that the message had been received.

 

With that out of the way, I checked if there were news on my tablet before leaving the Hangar-area and found that the operation-times had been posted. Carmine-Groups three and four, which included me, would be required to be on standby to launch within five minutes or less during the off-shift as soon as we left the system. That was scheduled for the evening of the same day, so getting some sleep was a reasonable idea.

But before that, I sent Commodore Ryker a message, asking if he, maybe alongside Commander Siloh and Lieutenant Wirum, would be willing to use the standby time to teach me the unique formations and maneuvers used by Carmine-Squadron.

During the wargame, I had been in wing-position the majority of the time but even there, it was a lot easier to follow along if you knew what the other was doing.

 

With that done, I started towards my cabin before deciding that a ration-bar before sleeping just wouldn’t cut it and directed my steps towards the mess. It wasn’t a normal time but there was some ready-made food that could be easily heated. While the food wasn’t something to write home about, especially knowing that my family was eating much better and fresher fare, but it was hot and my stomach was quite insistent that I re-supplied it after the strenuous morning. Looking around, I didn’t see any other cadets and while there were other people around, I didn’t feel the need to socialise, instead simply sitting by myself and digesting the lessons of the day. It was only early afternoon, going by the ship’s clock, but I felt as if I had been having lessons for days on end.

Part of that was the simple knowledge that we had been out there, while it wasn’t the first time I had flown a Starfighter outside of a simulation, it felt different, knowing that if I made a serious mistake, people would die, with me the first one to go. It made me wonder if there had been safeguards installed during the wargame or if they had thrown us into the deep end, seeing if we would sink or swim.

 

“Good Afternoon, Cadet Horn” a friendly voice pulled me from my thoughts, causing me to look up, only now realising that I had stopped eating and simply stared into space, lost in my mind. Standing opposite of me, dressed in the dark green uniform of a marine-officer was one of the other cadets, looking at me with a raised eyebrow.

“Good Afternoon, Cadet Blaese.” I returned the greeting after a quick glance to his name-tag. “Would you like to sit with me?” I asked, seeing that he was carrying a tray filled with food.

“Yes, thank you.” he took a seat, before adding, “but please, call me Emerson.”

I nodded, asking him to call me Leo in return, while taking the moment to get a good look at him. He looked rather disheveled, as if he had been exercising or maybe in an exercise but other than that, he looked quite good. While I mostly preferred the female form, there was something about the strength and solidness of a man like him that was attractive. That Emerson’s smile was quite nice added to the favourable impression.

As we ate mostly in silence, needing our mouths to replenish the energy we had used during the morning. Once the most pressing need was sated, there was more time to talk and the most obvious topic were the events of the morning. Curious, I asked what he had done to get into the state he was in and the answer made me shudder a little.

 

After the gravity had cut out in the morning, he and his fellow marine-cadet had reported at their duty-station, between the bridge and the crew-quarters. There, their training-officer had given each of them a few enlisted and it was off to repel boarders. In zero-gravity. Sometimes with the benefit of weapons, sometimes without. Always against a superior force. The whole morning.

Somehow, the tests I had been subjected to in my Starfighter seemed a lot less annoying all of a sudden.

 

I could imagine a lot of ways to spend time and trying to push back attacking groups without the benefit of gravity was near the bottom of the list if it came to things I wanted to do. I had been trained to fight, even without the benefit of my Starfighter and I was somewhat able to hold my own, as long as the other guy wasn’t trained as well. Without gravity, what little ability I had was greatly hampered, especially if the exercise was conducted without ranged weapons, went out of the airlock. I needed to be able to use my excellent reaction-time and slightly above average speed to get in hits while staying mobile and without bracing, that turned me into a floating object, ready to be caught. Trying to wrestle was the quickest way to land on my back and not in a fun way.

 

I let Emerson gripe and moan, while finishing up my food and when both of us were done, we stood and turned to leave. As we put our trays away, I asked him what he was doing next and was told that he would be working out in the gym. After a second of contemplation, I decided that exhausting my body to go along with my exhausted mind would be the easiest way to change my day-night rhythm, without the need for a sleeping aid.

So, I accompanied him.

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Tsaimath

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