As it turned out, the training could be very hard. I had underestimated the length the two Commodores were willing to go, instead of just running us through the grinder in the simulator, they also put our noses to the grindstone in other ways. After that first shift of simulator-training, they added further parts to it, having to do with combat-drills on the ship. Somehow, they managed to get Captain Burris to sign off it and turned the Merathorn into their private torture-dungeon, floating through the void. And it wasn’t just the Starfighter pilots who were roped in, everyone was made to join the fun.
They scheduled counter-boarding training, for everyone, including us pilots, at times with fun little complications woven into their scenarios, like a direct hit somehow managing to take out the armory at the beginning of the fight. Trying to repel boarders without the benefit of gravity was a pain in the behind, trying to do the same without gravity and without a weapon? It was worse. The marines might have had fun, playing the attacking force and putting us down time after time but for the rest of us? Not so fun.
In addition, they added a physical regiment to our schedule, requiring us to train in the ship’s gym for an hour each day.
Grace, my roommate, complained that the amount of drills had tripled, with time-constraints and interesting complications thrown in at every corner. During one meal I had to stop Emerson, one of the marine-cadets, from face-planting in his food when he fell asleep while eating, his body simply shutting down. It didn’t last long but when we asked, he related just how hard the officers worked him and the other marines, compared to that, our regimen sounded less physically taxing. Mentally was another question, but it didn’t sound fun.
Finally, after a week on their relentless schedule, I began to have nightmares of Commodore Ryker chasing me through the corridors of an endless Merathorn in his Raptor, making me dodge plasma-blasts while whistling the Starfleet Academy Fight-Song.
And then things got weird.
“Cadet Horn, we will dock at Fleet-Station Calmaru tomorrow. You, alongside a few other officers, will be interviewed by Fleet Intelligence, regarding the events in system F-347.” Commodore Ryker informed me, after the latest round of simulations. Before he had spoken to me, I had felt quite good about myself, having managed to get into the third-to-last overall rank in the squadron for the simulations, beating out one of the commissioned officers. Sadly, there was no numerical value given, so I only knew that I was rated higher than Second Lieutenant Hutch but not as high as Second Lieutenant Takahashi. But it gave me something to strive for, other than not falling behind Cadet Trezt.
“Yes, Sir.” I saluted, not quite knowing what to expect from an interview by Fleet Intelligence. It wasn’t something taught at the Academy, sure, we knew about their existence, but, similar to Psicom, the amount of reliable information about their activities was sparse.
The next day came far too soon, for my tastes, and we were off to the Fleet-Station. We were flown over in the Merathorn’s shuttle and on the flight, I once again noticed just how out of my depth I was. I was younger than the next youngest by a few years, lower in rank and experience and even the next older person, a Lieutenant that had been on sensor-duty on the bridge looked as if he was about to be sick.
To keep myself from looking just as pale as he did, I focused on the fact that Commodore Ryker was next to me, almost as if we were flying in formation with Commander Siloh and Lieutenant Wirum covering our back. It made me understand what Wildcat had meant when she talked about Carmine-Squadron sticking together and being family when I had asked her why so many people in the squadron were older than normal, both for the service and their rank. They simply didn’t care about promotions, were not trying to get transferred and remained one of the best Squadrons in the fleet, so Starfighter-Command was quite happy to leave a working system alone.
I felt the shudder of contact go through the shuttle and patiently waited until the superior officers, meaning everyone, had started to disembark with me bringing up the rear. My first impression of Fleet-Station Calmaru was that it looked just like every other orbital installations I had been on, smooth walls in a slightly off-white colour, illuminated from the corners by utilitarian, white light-strips, air with the telltale aroma of filter-systems and utilitarian doors further down the corridor.
What was not like every other orbital stations I had visited was the welcoming committee. There was not only a Naval Intelligence Officer waiting for us, dressed in a navy-uniform, with only the symbols of his branch giving away what he was but next to him was a civilian, dressed in a black suit, without a ship-suit beneath it. The only thing keeping me from gawking at the incongruity of seeing someone without the almost mandatory ship-suit for people above the atmosphere was the last officer that was waiting for us. Where the black suit of the civilian made me slightly uncomfortable because black in the service was reserved for psi-com officers, the black uniform of a psi-com officer made a shudder run down my spine.
While I knew that psions were human, just like me, their presence made me uncomfortable, especially up close. Maybe it was worse because the officer, a woman in this case, was wholly unremarkable, other than the black uniform with the rank-tabs of a commander. If I had seen her outside of her uniform, I wouldn’t have a chance to know that she might be rooting through my mind, figuring out all my secrets.
“Commodore Ryker, Captain Burris, it is good to see you and your crew. I am Commodore Lurio, Naval Intelligence. We have done a preliminary analysis of the data you sent to us while approaching and there are a lot of questions to be answered. If you would follow the security personnel to an interview room?” the obvious leader asked, sounding quite polite about it but it was an impossible to take as anything but an order. He, in contrast to the psi-com commander, was a rather impressive physical specimen, tall and muscular, making me think of front-line marine, not intelligence-officer. But looks could be deceiving, I had no doubt that he was very good at what he did, given that he looked younger than Commodore Ryker and they had the same rank.
One of the station-security officers, essentially a police-officer, just for the station, not part of the military to my surprise, stepped up to me.
“Cadet Horn, if you would come with me?” he asked politely. The same happened for the rest of the Merathorn’s officers, only Commodore Ryker was the exception, it looked like he would be escorted by Commodore Lurio himself.
“Of course, lead the way Officer…” I paused, curious if he would fill in the gap.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” he turned, with me falling in next to him. Everything was very polite but somehow, I felt weird, the short hairs in my neck standing up in alarm. Maybe it was the high-powered welcoming committee, maybe it was the act of splitting us up, but I had a feeling that something was very wrong here.
The rest of the group was still nearby but it was quite obvious that talking to them would either be forbidden or strongly frowned upon as we made our way through the station. There were various people dressed in ship-suits and uniforms, some civilian, others fleet, as one would expect from an orbital installation. I tried to remember what sort of world Fleet-Station Calmaru was orbiting but was drawing a blank. It was a supply- and defense-station, most likely rather large, with an evidently decently sized presence from Naval Intelligence, given that they had a Commodore available to welcome us.
After walking almost a kilometer, which affirmed my impression of the station’s size, they started to get serious about splitting us up. One after the other, we were shown to rooms, with me being the last to go.
The room I was shown to was about as scant as could be, there was a metal table, bolted to the deck, a chair, equally bolted down and a few small cameras in the corners, looking in. More, foldable, chairs were secured at the walls but I had a feeling that those would be for those interviewing me.
“Please, have a seat and someone will be with you soon.” the security officer gesture and I walked in, the door shutting behind me. Sitting down at the table, I looked around me and my first impression was confirmed, there was nothing in here, other than me. I was left alone with nothing to occupy my mind, nothing to do. It was what I hated most, boredom.
Hopefully, it wouldn’t take too long.