PHASE II : THE TYR ARC ( 20 of 28 )
: Reasonable Doubts
win or lose, live or die - and the difference
is just an eyelash."
- Douglas MacArthur
The Tyr System
Contested Zone, February 4th, 2681
Colonel Victoria Alvarez's fighter, the Panther medium fighter, was a beautiful thing. Alvarez frowned at the thought that her bliss would soon have to end... she would have to return to being the group's Wing Commander, a person of responsibility. Not a pilot, but an administrative officer of the Space Force. A Desk Jockey.
"Panther 001, you are cleared to land. Bring your speed to 50 KPS and set control to the Yorktown, we will take it from here," ordered the young voice on the comm.
"Negative, Yorktown, Im going to bring her in solo. Activating guidance systems," she replied defiantly as she pushed the button activating the Landing Guidance System or LGS. Four green lines came up on her HUD, guiding the fighter in to the Yorktown. She aligned her fighter right in between the "landing lines" and slowly let off speed. As she approached the carrier, she let down her landing gear.
It has been well known to every pilot in the Confederation that solo (or non-carrier assisted) landings on a carrier were very difficult. A pilot must set her speed exactly with that of the carrier, and align perfectly to the airlock so as to not hit the roof or floor of the deck or worse yet, smash into the rear of the carrier. Thats where the LGS came in. It would create a landing line that pilots would follow in exactly... if you were between the lines, you would live. If not, an alarm would sound telling you to realign yourself or abort the sequence. Nevertheless, landing was and always would be difficult.
Alvarez approached within 2,000 meters of the carrier. She closed her scoops and shut off the engines, creating absolutely no drag outside of the fighter. In a frictionless environment, this would mean 100 percent inertia. However, the fighter would have a lot of friction when it hit gravity and the air of the carrier, so she switched on her landing jets at 100 meters. The fighter glided through the airlock with a shudder, and entered the flight deck. She noticed as she brought the fighter to a halt in the air, that the entire flight wing, which she had ordered to land before her, was out of their cockpits watching her land.
Alvarez activated the retro-jets to bring her speed down and she set her Panther down with a very soft thump. As Alvarez shut down her systems and checked her ejection seat, she smiled to see that the pilots were applauding and celebrating. Alvarez opened up her cockpit to the deafening roar of the celebration. As she stepped out of her fighter, she was promptly picked up and put on peoples shoulders, much to her amazement and was carried up the stairs to Flight Control.
As she was put back on the Deck of the carrier, Alvarez walked up to the Flight Control room and activated the Deck Intercom.
"Pilots of the Yorktown Battle Group, Today, we achieved a fantastic victory for the Confederation! 2 destroyers, 4 corvettes and a whole ass load of fighters are no longer in the land of the living!" yelled Alvarez into the intercom with much enthusiasm. The crowd roared with applause.
"The citizens of Tyr are now safer and and Admiral Hanton from Battle Group Valkyrie has sent us a message. I will read it as follows,
TO : Confederation pilots of the Yorktown Battle Group
FROM : Rear Admiral Erin Hanton, UBW First Fleet, Battle Group Valkyrie
SUBJECT : Success of capital ship interception
Pilots of the Yorktown and escort ships, you have no idea how much trouble you saved us. We checked on our screens and saw the battle and we were amazed at the courage and strength of your wing. Those destroyers and corvettes could have caused a severe problem in the evacuation, and would have taken time away from rescuing those civilians on Tyr. Civilian casualties would have been unavoidable with those destroyers there. Luckily, they aren't there any more. Again, good work!
Cheers sounded all over the ship as the letter was read.
"Fantastic job, pilots. Dismissed!" ordered Alverez as she stepped down. As she left flight control, Alverez stopped in the lounge to get a small bottle of wine to take back to sooth her mind after the battle. She then walked into her quarters and activated her console.
Welcome Colonel. You have 2 E-Messages,
Sender : Captain John Ramirez <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject : Meeting
Sender: Nathan Alvarez <Alv12214@terranet.com>
Subject: hi baby.
Extension: 3dm~ message to Vicki
Do you wish to read? (Yes/No)
She clicked yes on the first message. The message came up and she frowned.
Colonel Alvarez, we have a meeting with the Yorktown command staff concerning our losses and plans for future actions, including replacements. Please be there at 1900 Hours tonight. Very important. Thanks.
She clicked on the second message, activating an extension. A familiar three-dimensional hologram popped up on the holoprojecter next to her console. The man that popped up was an older Mexican man with gray streaks in his hair. Alvarez smiled as the man started to speak.
"Hello, Vicki. It's me, Papa. I haven't sent you a message for a long time, so I figured it was time I sent one to my wonderful daughter. How is life in the Third Fleet? I heard you were recently promoted to WC of the Yorktown! Im happy for you. I just wanted you to know that we love you and hope that you continue to succeed. Come home soon! - Dad"
Alvarez smiled as she clicked off the console and took off her flight suit jacket, revealing a small tight tank top shirt with the words "TCS Yorktown, The Few and the Finest" on it. The small shirt formed to her shapely figure like a glove and revealed how beautiful she was. Alvarez then walked over to her cooler and pulled out the bottle of wine. She poured a small cupful and sipped it. She returned the bottle and went to the bed and laid down on it, putting her head on the pillow.
She looked out the window. Out among the stars she saw the enormous Agincourt and a smaller destroyer to the side, the Perez. The Perez had a large dark spot on the lower front portion of the ship. It looked like a powerful beam slammed into the armor and melted parts of it. She even saw a trail of atmosphere spew out from the center of the dark spot. A hull breach.
"Jesus, if a corvette can do that, I wonder what a cruiser or one of those dreadnoughts can do! she exclaimed excitedly. Just then, people in EVA Gear started pouring out of the wounded destroyer, and went back to work fixing the hole in the armor. She took another sip of the wine and put the empty glass to the side. She laid back on her pillow, and reached over to her bedside console. She set the alarm for 1800 hours so she would have time to get ready for the meeting.
Contested Zone, February 4th, 2681,
The pressure... too much pressure... always pressure...
Major Francis Silence Rubio had earned her callsign back in the Academy for, not surprisingly, her silence. She was the type to swallow her pain, and the Academy years had been very hard for her. But any pain back then had been worth it. It had been worth it if she could just fly against the Kilrathi like her brother had, like her fiancée had, like her father had. None of them had ever come home, but she had.
Any pain back then could be swallowed, saved to be exerted on the Kilrathi. She had earned her vengeance defending McAuliffe, back during the final push that had taken the Kilrathi to Proxima. The Cats hadnt gotten McAuliffe, though, and Silence had earned her gold star for getting three capital ship kills in two actions. She had repaid the Kilrathi a hundredfold for her suffering, and she considered her vengeance sated.
Action in the Andorra Campaign had earned her a squadron, but it had been differentthere was no reason to fight the Republic, and she had just been doing her duty as an officer. Back then, she had answered the pressure with alcohol. But this new war, against this vast alien horde, had pushed her further than she thought she could go. As much as she hated to admit it, she wasnt suited for command. She was a combat bomber pilot, responsible for her copilot, her gunners, and her wingman. Sure, she was a good commander in the field, but every night the paperwork seemed to get harder, the meetings seemed to tax her more.
So she had managed to get a hold of something to help with the pressure. Marijuana was an ancient drug, one that hadnt held significant popularity since its annihilation on Terra four centuries ago. But it was still grown in a few places, and Confed Security didnt notice the difference between a joint and a cigarette anymore. Besides, she had thought the pills she had picked up back in Torgo would take care of any drug tests.
She had found out the hard way just how wrong she was. This whole façade had come crashing down when her most trusted friend told the Captain about how she slipped and left her cabin doors unlocked. Her friend had found Silence smoking the stuff and told the Captain, and now she was thrown in the brig.
Now she was rotting in this room while the Captain and the WC decided her fate. No doubt she would be grounded, and that was a fate worse than death. It would also spell the death knell of her squadron. She didnt like her exec, Captain Vlad Archangel Karpoff. She didnt like the fact that a vet of the Kilrathi War had nothing to show for it, didnt like that he had been an armchair officer while she had busted her ass and watched good people die all the way to her squadron command. Karpoff would kill her squadron, she knew it.
He was a good officer, of that there was no doubt. In fact, she also hated him for just how squared away he wasjust like a plebe at the Academy. She hated him for that, toohe had gone through ROTC, not the Academy. But he was no combat vet, and she was, and she knew that he couldnt hack squadron command. And now, as her XO, he would lead her men into battle, into a hell where they would be slaughtered under him...
Major Rubio, a voice sang out.
What? she replied.
Youre free to go. Captain Ramirez agreed to allow you to return to your quarters and the lounge only, until further notice. Rubio smiled and walked out of the brig as headed for her quarters.
Contested Zone, February 4th, 2681,
Silence walked into her quarters and quickly walked to her console. She activated it and searched for E-mail.
Welcome Major. You have 1 E-Message.
Sender : Captain John Ramirez <email@example.com>
Subject : Meeting
Do you wish to read? (Yes/No)
She clicked yes.
"Major Rubio, I cannot say how disappointed I am with this addiction that has come to my attention.
Im afraid that by the Confederation Uniform code of Military Justice, Im forced to immediately relieve you of command of your squadron and assign it to your executive officer, Captain (Now promoted to Major) Vladmir Karpoff. Im sorry, but I am also going to have to demote you to the rank of Captain and assign you to the executive officer position of the Cavaliers.
We will decide further details at a later meeting between the command staff.
Apologetically, Captain John Ramirez, TCN.
Francis left her console and sat on her bed. She started to cry.
Contested Zone, February 4th, 2681,
Lieutenant Commander Yolanda Zavala took a sip of her water. She frowned. The water tasted unpurified and metallic as if the filter wasnt working anymore. She looked around the table as people started to arrive. Some wearing TCSF identification markings, others wore the badges of the TCN. Just then, the Captain of the Yorktown, John Ramirez, walked through the door. The CO of the Yorktown group, Rear Admiral William Kennedy, was too busy planning strategy to attend, so Captain Ramirez would be chairing the meeting.
Attention on Deck! barked the Marine at the doorway. All of the sitting members of the meeting quickly stood to attention.
Carry on, was the reply and the personnel all sat down. Zavala thought about this unfamiliar act of protocol. They didnt have Marines on her destroyer, the Maribel, so they never practiced this act. Zavala led a very lax, yet family style crew. She did not ask to be saluted, though most did out of courtesy, whereas some of the other officers demanded it on sight. It was the respect thing. Its all some of the Ensigns have.
Captain John Ramirez walked into the room and placed his briefcase on the solid glass table. All of the command staff from the Yorktown Battle Group were in this room now and were wondering just what this unexpected meeting was about.
Lets begin. Today our ships made a fantastically executed strike on the Alien fleet. Unanimous clapping and applause was heard. Enemy capships casualties were 4 corvettes and two destroyers. A great hit. However, we did lose a few men today, so this brings me to my next subject. Replacements.
A look of dissatisfaction was on the face of every squadron commander in the room.
Confed HQ has sent word to Admiral Hanton and Admiral Kennedy about replacements. They said that they were unable to send anything our way. There will be no replacements because they can't spare any. The First, Fourth and Seventh Confed fleets have been held back to defend the inner Confed systems. Most of the Border Worlds carriers are already here, and the one other fleet carrier they have, the Arcadia, is tied up in drydock for repairs. Both Third Fleet and the Border Worlders are calling up their reserves, but it will be another ten days at the least before they're assembled.
This news was taken in very solemnly by the squadron commanders. Finally, Major Brancer (AKA Foxxman), the Arkrunner's CO, broke the silence.
Sir, with all due respect, this is bullshit! he blurted out. He continued, We lose good men out there, valuable fighters are being destroyed, yet we always give it our best. But if what you say is true, our best is going to be jack shit in the later battles of this conflict. We may only lose 2 fighters here, 3 there, 1 here, but eventually, we are going to run out. These aliens have thousands more fighters that we do. Eventually, the Yorktown will be fighting swarms of fighters that no one can stop, he finished.
The members of the meeting took in what he said and frowned.
Major, I wish there was something I could do. If any of the other carriers go fodder on us, then thats going to be our replacements, but Confed is going though its typical bureaucratic bullshit. So we die, and they get the satisfaction of weakening the foe and having their forces ready to defend the homeworlds.
Sir, bullshit, it's all bullshit, repeated Brancer.
Anyways, we have to move on. Our next subject is the damage the TCS Perez received. I give the floor to Lt. Commander Tolbert. Tolbert got up and started to begin his report.
Thank you, sir. Earlier today, when we encountered the corvettes, we were in the front of the formation. Though our bombers took out two of the corvettes, we were sent in to follow up. Well, the corvettes concentrated their fire on us. They punched through our shields and managed through continual bombardment to breach a small part of the hull. We lost 4 crewmen but we are repairing the damage now.
Thank you. Finally, I bring about my final topic. You may have noticed that Major Francis 'Silence' Rubio, the Cavilers commander, isnt in here. Well, earlier today, her wingman walked into her room and saw her smoking something. Well, she was one of the few people on the ship that knew what Silence was smoking by the smell. It was an ancient drug named Marijuana. A narcotic that is a highly addictive drug which soothes the mind. Well, as you know, all drugs are banned in the Confederation so it was grounds for court-marshal. However, I decided to demote her to Captain and have her Exec, Vlad 'Archangel' Karpov take over.
The news was met by grunts of dissatisfaction and some small murmuring.
Are there any questions?
No one raised their hands.
Then you all are dismissed, Ramirez said, and he got up and walked out, leaving the group of people to talk amongst themselves.
Flight Wing Rec Room - Pilot's Lounge
Cruising in Tyr System
About Two Hours Later
First Lieutenant Marq Ferret Defaunce chuckled to himself as he lay down his hand. Three kings, boys and girls! Read'em and weep! With a sweep of his arm he gathered up the credits arrayed in the center of the table.
Aww, fuck this! Captain Beni Mayor Prestandolu exclaimed as he threw his hand down in disgust. He grabbed his shotglass and downed the peppermint schnapps in a gulp, slamming the empty glass down so hard the table jumped.
Youre just pissed because you lost the magic, First Lieutenant Audrey Blondie Kempus laughed. So todays not your day at cards? Big deal! Hell, Rubio got dismissed, I thought youd be ecstatic!
Mayor growled. Just because I dont like Rubio doesnt mean that I want to fly under Karpoff.
Blondie just wants to be under Karpoff! Ferret replied jokingly. He quickly ducked out of the way of a poorly-aimed plastic cup.
He did well enough against that destroyer, countered Captain Anna Slice-n-Dice Dicer, who flew Karpoffs wing. She had caught the conversation after finishing up a sim flight. Judging by her flushed look and the sweat running down her flight suits chest, it hadnt gone very well in the simulator.
First Lieutenant Joe Wildman Fischer asked, Hey, Dice, youve flown wingman for Silence and Arch, what do you think? I mean, sure, hes racked up some pretty impressive sim scores, but how is he out there?
Before Dicer could open her mouth to answer, a new voice interrupted.
His sim scores dont count for shit, Captain Francis Rubio shouted as she entered the lounge. So he can dogfight against cats. Were not facing cats, were fighting a race so fearsome the Cats call them the Kn'thrak, the end of all things. And hes the only member of the squad who doesnt have any torp hits. And I know for a fact that I wouldnt want somebody who wasnt a combat vet out there leading me!
Second Lieutenants Ming Chip Xaioping and Akino Seeker Haikiri bristled slightly at Silences last comment. They, along with the other three second looies in the squadron were all fresh Academy and flight school grads, and those two were especially hot about proving themselves, since they had missed the Kilrathi War.
Yeah, he isnt the most experienced, Dicer countered, but he knows his crap. Im sure hell do fine.
Youre gonna die for thinking hell do fine, Silence countered, stalking over to a sim. The noise in the room died down as each pilot silently reflected on her last comment. Then the sim was closed, and conversation started back up.
Better an inexperienced but capable leader than a dope-fiend, 2nd Lt. Danielle Alto Caldbeck whispered under her breath.
Wildman took notice of this. Alto was Silences wingman, since she was the newest member of the squadron, and not exactly huge on war fighting. Silence had chosen to keep her close so that if Alto lost it in battle, Silence would be there to give her a hand. But even Alto had scored a torpedo hit on the destroyer... Maybe Silence has something there, Wildman thought to himself.
All I know is that Archangel is a major, and Im a lieutenant, Seeker said. Ive got obey what he says.
Even if its your death warrant? Ferret countered. All I know is, if Archangel cant hack it, Silence has my backing. Im gonna follow her, he scowled, right as a shadow fell across his table.
Hey, its just the truth. Personally I dont give a shit for Karpoff! Ferret continued. Just remember what Im saying when he cracks.
Thats when Ferret noticed Blondies terrified visage, locked on someone immediately behind him. Ferret cringed when it finally came to himKarpoff was right behind him. With a quick eye-roll that said Here we go again. He waited for all hell to fall on him.
But it never came. Not down on him. Next to him, as Archangel took the seat next to him. The rooms silence was broken only by the hum of lights and equipment, the sims servos, and Silences muffled curses filtering through the simulator. All eyes were locked on Captain, now Major, Vladimir Archangel Karpoff.
Finally the frightening calm was broken, as Alto sneaked out of the lounge. Then Archangel spoke.
Lieutenant, he said, motioning to Chip. What is this ribbon for?
Pilot qualification, sir, he smartly, if a little too quickly, answered.
And what are these?
Combat bomber wings, sir.
And what is this ribbon?
Purple Heart, sir.
Chips eyes wandered to the ribbon immediately next to the Purple Heart, the ribbon that held highest priority on Archangel's uniform, up on the left-hand upper corner of his tossed salad. It wasnt the best medal a pilot could earn, but for a young man who had witnessed the battle over his home city of Ontario, Canada, the ribbon was a sign of bravery and skill that few could match.
Karpoffs finger followed Chips gaze. And this one?
Terra Campaign, sir. For the Battle of Terra, after the false truce.
Ferret finally snapped, jumping to his feet. With all respect, sir, that ribbon isnt worth shit on your chest! You got shot down as soon as the fight started! He paused longer than he should have before adding Sir! violently to the end of his outburst.
Sit down, Lieutenant! Karpoff's voice seemed to fill the entire room as he screamed the order at his subordinate. Suddenly the sim stopped, and in the back of the room. Silence cracked the sim lid to listen.
Listen, all of you, and listen good! I will not put up with this kind of shit. We are at war! We are not fighting in support of Confederation policy, like most of you have been doing up to now. We are fighting a war where we are faced with utter and total annihilation. This threat is the greatest or even greater then the Kilrathi. We are fighting for the survival of our species. If you cannot accept that I am your commanding officer, no matter how great in question my combat experience is... He shot an evil glance back to Silence. No matter what you think of me, I will lead you into combat, whether you like it or not. You will obey my orders. Ive fought the Kilrathi, Silence has fought the Kilrathi, and Mayor has fought the Kilrathi. We have all fought these aliens. The Kilrathi War does not matter now, this one does!
Karpoff stalked over to the kill board. He soundly pointed out his name, and the number next to itzero. If you think this is a reflection of my ability to fight, I challenge any of you to a simulator duel. If you think this is a reflection of my ability to lead, you are wrong. If you do not like being under me, too bad. I am your new commanding officer and I will be until Im dead or they find a better man for the job. You dont have a choice who you fly under. You dont like me, I dont care. I am here to fight to defend humanity. Anyone who wants the same will obey my orders. Anyone who doesnt want to will be considered deserters and treated as such.
It was common knowledge that under the Confederate Uniform Code of Military Justice, desertion in time of war was an offense that was best solved by instant execution, as militaries had practice for millennia. As Archangel stalked from the room, the squadron remained behind in stunned silence.
Then a voice piped up. That son of a bitch, said Captain Francis Rubio.
Captain Vladimir Archangel Karpoff sighed almost as loudly as the doors closing behind him. As the lift began proceeding up to Officers Country, he reflected on what had just happened, and especially what he had just said.
Archangel knew that he had done a bad thing back in the pilots lounge. He had handled the situation wrong, that was for sure. The pilots under his command, with the exception of a few of the second lieutenants, held no respect for a vet of the Kilrathi War who had only seen about half an hour of combat. Many of his pilots were vets of the minor wars following the Kilrathi War, especially Silence and Mayor. His command didnt trust him, and that was the worst thing that could happen to a squadron. Now he would have to work especially hard to earn that respect and trust, but hard work was something that Vlad Karpoff could do.
As Arch returned to his quarters, he wondered just how well he would perform. He knew he could do it, but even his men had put an inkling of doubt in the back of his mind. He knew hed have to crush it, or it would consume him. But paperwork called, and soon his mind was as far from his and his commands fears as his ship was from home...
Lieutenants Drake and Waterston sat at the bar. The capship run had left them drained, but the adrenaline still pumped through their veins. The WC had given all of the pilots who had participated in the strike a well-deserved break, though not a "straight eight." Additionally, Major Rosencrantz had given them a little extra time off, partly as a reward for expertly defending Charlie Wing's bombers, partly to give them time to work out any grief they might have over the death of their comrade, Joseph Fergus.
Fergus had bought his own piece of space before the Agincourt and her fighter escorts could arrive to lend a hand. A twinge of regret lay beneath the adrenaline. A small service had been performed earlier. Most of the Grendels had buried their grief then.
"Jesus Christ... that was intense," Waterston said as she sipped her beer. The Agincourt's skipper had sent the two Grendels half a case of his own stash of home brew. Torchie and Harpy relished the beer along with their kills, two of which were the bombers they had dispatched. Drake looked over at her younger cohort and smiled. Waterston had the look that she herself had possessed after her first major capship engagement: "I almost died... Damn! That was cool!"
"You hung tough, Kat. I'll bet ol' Foxxman wouldn't mind having you back on his wing."
"Yeah. Me and my Vampire."
Drake tapped Waterston's arm kiddingly. "Hey, don't get too cocky. Remember, your guardian angel here was right behind you."
Waterston laughed, not scoffing, but more out of cheerful camaraderie.
The beer helped too. She finished her third and decided to save her three remaining bottles for a special occasion. Drake seemed to be doing the same. The Agincourt's captain was a damn fine home brewer. It would be piggish to down the whole thing in one sitting.
As the two stood, albeit with a miniscule amount of unsteadiness, Major Rosencrantz walked in. He noticed them and gave them a casual two-fingered salute from his brow. Under his left arm he held a datapad. Drake noticed it and gave Rosencrantz a regretful nod. The Major ordered tea and sat by the viewport.
"Hey, Lil, what's up?" Waterston asked.
"The Major. He's writing Cockney's deathcomm."
"Jesus. I thought..."
"He always writes a personal message, even if it's supposed to go higher. He takes it about as personal as he can. We're really his family. Sure, he's got some family on Mars, but I doubt they're close. The Major's a pilot. This is his home. The only way he'll ever leave the carrier is if they jettison him out the airlock," Drake replied reflectively.
Waterston considered it as she massaged her scalp through her thick, red hair. The alcohol had begun to take a small effect. She studied Rosencrantz for a moment and silently wished him luck in his ugly task. Drake nudged her arm.
"C'mon, let's turn in."
In another portion of the ship, Lieutenants Carson and Walker gazed out a portside viewport. Matchlock and Footman by trade, the two pilots had formed a fast friendship when Walker had transferred in from the Arkrunners. Walker twiddled a pen in his hand as they discussed the day's events.
"You know what bothers me most about the strike? The way Cockney bought the farm," Walker declared.
Carson stared out the viewpoint, reflexively training his eyes on a single star, then moving on to another. It allowed him to focus himself, be it in battle or conversation. Walker sounded a bit spooked.
Carson replied, "It happens."
"No, not this way. I saw the TAC readouts afterward. That bug switched to its pea shooters to finish him off. It toyed with him."
Damn... yeah. I guess you're right."
"Bill, there's a load of bad stuff going on here. Command is keeping quiet. We're clearing an entire colony out. Nobody's heard from the Midway for too damn long. If this is the calm before the storm, then I'd hate to be here when the wind picks up."
"Hey, you've got a girl on the Midway, right?"
"Yeah. We were both up for leave in about three months. She's from Mars, so I wanted to take her home and show her Salt Lake. She never got to see much of Earth besides of the Academy."
"I'd love to see that town myself. Maybe next year."
"It's great. Hey, if we ever have the chance, you'll have to show me your place up in Virginia. Maybe we can even fire off some of your old slugthrowers," Walker proposed. Carson smiled. It was good to think of home, and he missed the family farm and his heirloom muskets. He was also glad that he had gotten Walker out of his slump. Carson yawned. The day had taxed him harshly.
"Getting sleepy?" Walker asked. Carson nodded.
Walker acknowledged, "Same here. I better get back to my quarters. Hopefully Tommygun won't snore tonight," he said. The two stood and left.
Fitness Room/Gymnasium A
Irena Arkadyova exercised in silence. The last hour's workout, though not overly strenuous, had produced more than a fair amount of sweat. Arkadyova disliked the feeling, but she enjoyed the knowledge that each small twinge of discomfort gave her a sharper edge. Arkadyova liked the metaphor. She thought herself a cutting weapon. Her graceful, solid form showed neither softness nor musculature, but a fluid uniformity. She compared herself to a cat, or more properly, a tiger.
She stared at the wall as she worked out, her breathing in near-perfect 4/4 time. Behind her, the door thrummed open. A second later, she heard a knock on the metal frame. She immediately began her cool-down exercises.
"Mind if I...?" Major Rosencrantz inquired. Arkadyova turned her head and saw that he was in his uniform. He had no intention of working out.
"Of course not. I was almost finished. What's up?" she replied as she stood down from the machine. Rosencrantz had sat down on a nearby piece of equipment. Arkadyova grabbed her towel and sat, wiping some of the extraneous sweat from her forehead.
"I just got done with Cockney's deathcomm. Sent it through ten minutes ago. Damn. God damn it all."
Rosencrantz gazed sullenly off into nothing. Arkadyova looked sympathetically to her friend. She had not known Cockney well, partly by her own choice. She was too much of a disciplinarian to mingle closely with the squadron. She did indeed feel for Rosencrantz, though. The Grendels were his family, and she knew the pain of losing family to war.
The two remained silent for some time. Rosencrantz looked up. His face spoke of acceptance. She met his gaze, her eyes conveying understanding.
Rosencrantz inhaled deeply, then spoke. "We did good out there today. Not a bad trade. You did some damn fine work out there as well. Good job on the second destroyer."
"Thank you. I like how the new lieutenant is working out, too. Commander Vasquez had a lot of good things to say in her after-action report. You did well to pair her with Lieutenant Drake. They mesh quite well."
"Yeah. Definitely. When you get down to it, this was a textbook operation..."
"Michael, Cockney did his best. We did ours. Those things did theirs as well."
"Doesn't mean I have to like it." He grimaced. Rosencrantz stood and stretched, realizing just how strained his muscles were. Arkadyova stood as well. She placed her hand on his shoulder, easing his doubts.
"You're still the best CO I've ever had, Michael. You just never figured out how to bury people. Now get some sleep."
Rosencrantz smiled at his friend, grateful for the reassurance. Arkadyova was right. Part of his was glad about that. He was equally grateful for her friendship. He nodded to her, then left for his quarters to get some sleep. Arkadyova hit the showers and washed away the stresses of the day.
Contested Zone, February 5th, 2681,
Detail. Attention! barked Colonel Jacob White, commanding officer of the TCMC unit on board the Yorktown. The entire carrier crew (except for a skeleton bridge crew), were at the funeral. They all stood to attention. Colonel White continued, Sergeant Lamborn, fire the volleys!
Gunnery Sergeant Josh Lamborn, then began his part.
Aye, sir. Detail Ready!
The 12 Marines simultaneously raised their guns and placed a round in its chamber.
Aim! The 12 men raised their rifles and aimed out of the carrier airlock.
12 shots blared out in all their fury into the darkness. The process repeated once more. Twice. As the final volley blasted out into the eternal void, Colonel Victoria Alvarez looked out and thought aloud,
going to be a long war