“This is bullshit!” Kate said, pounding her fist on the table. “I trained for three years to be a pilot! Now you’re telling me I get to be support staff?! What the fuck?!”
“You’re speaking to a superior officer, Lieutenant!”
She turned away. Face was beet red, and now she was being shut down. No way was she going to let them see how hurt she was by this. All the years of training, getting rank to fly, now this was how it ended. Being relegated to a support role. It was beyond insulting. Her scores were at the top of her class. In the simulator she was ranked in the top 10 percent of all the students at Fleet Academy. When she put the wings on that uniform, it was the proudest she had ever been. Seeing her father in uniform, shaking her hand was such an honor. Would make family events interesting, since she now outranks him. Not that she would ever pull rank. He was retired anyway. All that work, and this is how it ends.
The Rear Admiral looked over at her. A very calm, stoic man. Every part of him was the definition of a Navy officer. Well-trimmed beard, lines on his face that showed history of making hard decisions, and a uniform that while being perfect pressed, was worn too. The years showed on his face, on his collar, sleeve, and chest. He was worthy of respect.
“Come with me, Lieutenant. Perhaps when you see the machine you’ll be in support with, you’ll understand.”
“Yes sir…” was all she could manage. Her mind was trapped in a dark place, thinking of what everyone would say when she got back home and said her wings were basically stripped away.
Once they got off the elevator to the hangar bay, it was then that she noticed how she was walking right behind a Rear Admiral. For someone in her position to be given a tour of something by the commander of the entire ship, it was very strange. Why would he be giving her the rundown? What was this unit?
After a long walk, they reached a hangar bay that was marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” An APO? Here? This was strange enough to get her attention. Was this unit a new model? That got her blood pumping again. The self-pity feeling receded just enough for her to want to see what was waiting for her in the hangar. Scanning his ID badge, the door opened. Coming inside, the Admiral’s attendant hit the sensor to turn on the lights. In front of them was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Shining in the light, the black metal of the variable fighting armor was sleek. It was in flight mode while docked here, no surprise. Part of her wanted to see what it would look like in combat mode, but she wasn’t brave enough to ask.
Looking the unit over, she saw the typical fighter design reminiscent of Earth. In space, that design wasn’t practical, but the sleeker look made it a smaller target. Plus, with the usage of Nova Particles, they could afford to be flamboyant. No longer were they limited to designs that made the most of booster engines. Now the laws of gravity would bend to their will. It was exciting stuff. Elegant, yet completely lacking in any offensive capability while in flight mode. That was strange. Typically, variable armors would have at least basic weapon capability while in flight mode. Why did this unit not? That’s when her eyes were drawn to the back of it. The rear of the unit had the strangest-looking boosters she had ever seen. There were two of them, but they looked like complete Nova Engines. The conical section at the tip of each booster was different, but the section linking to it with the unit was identical to what she had studied with Nova Particle engines. The urge to ask questions was overpowering, but since she was already in the doghouse, she didn’t want to push her luck.
“What do you think, Lieutenant?” the Rear Admiral asked.
“Sir, I have to ask – are those Nova engines on the back? Why would this unit have two reactors?”
“Good eye, Lieutenant. They are. This unit utilizes a new system that has never been tested in the field before. Observe.” Looking over to a technician who entered the room. “Let’s see the combat mode.”
“Aye-aye, sir!” The young woman pulled out a tablet and hit some sensors. Gravity tethers came down and lifted the fighter up. It began to shift, with the cockpit going into the chest piece and disappearing. No surprise. Protect the pilots. The head piece came up and had just the single glowing red eye. Black armor, with yellow segments throughout.
“Beautiful,” Kate whispered. Then she saw something – the two engines were now on large panels on the back of the shoulders of the armor.
“I’m not following, sir,” Kate said. “I mean, it looks cool, but what does it do?”
The Rear Admiral turned and winked at her. “Come into the booth. It seals so we’re protected from Particle exposure. We’ll show you.”
They started walking to a door on the far side of the hangar. Looking back at it, the unit seemed so regal. On the arms were gun barrels. They were only exposed to show off. It was clear that they typically folded into the armor itself. Very cool to look at. The legs had no real feet. Hence why it had to be lifted up to do this. At the bottom were pointed boosters. While fighters of the modern age didn’t depend on boosters for mobility or turning in space, they still had them for sudden bursts of speed. Essential while in battle. All the cold black and vibrant yellow in the armor. It reminded her of wasps back on her planet.
They went through the door and it led to a room with consoles in front of a large window. At them sat technicians. They had specs for the unit pulled up.
“Sir, everything’s ready here,” one of the techs announced. Just then, the room started to go up! This was pretty neat stuff. Was this hangar designed for this? Why had she never seen this place before. So odd. Now they could clearly see the armor hanging in suspension.
“Show the Lieutenant the shield,” the Rear Admiral commanded.
“Aye-aye!” A few sensors were hit, then the engines on the shoulder started to shimmer. Light particles were flowing out! Made sense why they were in this sealed room now. Direct exposure to Nova Particle was dangerous. What were they going to show her. A shield? How was that possible? After studying the particle, she had learned that while they could alter gravity around any contained space, there was no way to focus them in such a way that they could provide a constant shield. Not without an insane power draw. The Nova Particle engines worked by being able to create new particles while using them. There was a restriction on the engines that kept them from drawing to the point that they couldn’t refill the standing supply. Had they found a way around that?
Just then, she looked at the armor. All over the body, tiny slots opened. From there were coming lights. The cold black metal, with dozens of tiny yellow lights. It was pretty to look at. Reminded her of a Solstice tree back home. Were particles coming out of there? No, they weren’t. Then, a series of cannons dropped down. They were going to shoot it?! Risking damaging the equipment they were going to take into battle? Seemed needless. This was something they could have shown her in a simulation.
“Watch closely, Lieutenant,” the Rear Admiral commanded.
One of the techs pulled up a display on her screen where it showed a system. The name of it – Eternal Shield. Eternal? How had they found a way to get past the power draw?! So many questions, but she was told to watch. The guns came online. One of them opened fire directly in front of the armor. The tech furiously entered in information onto her panel. Right as the beams were going to hit, little hexagons of light appeared! They deflected the beams effortlessly. The hexagons were created by the tiny lights on the armor! What was the tech entering stuff about? Then, a gun behind and to the side opened up. Now the tech was really scrambling, but as before, the light shapes appeared and deflected all the shots. It was amazing to look at. All three guns opened up and the tech was sweating bullets, but she was able to keep up. Not a single round hit the machine. When it was done, the slots closed, and the particles stopped coming out of the engines.
“What do you think, Lieutenant?”
Kate was in awe. “Sir, I have so many questions.”
“Aye-aye. First how are you able to solve the problem of power draw? Something like this must take a colossal amount of particles to make work!”
A technician gave her a winsome smile. “The twin engine drive. Well, technically the shield is twin engine. We also have a third engine inside the machine to power the rest of the systems, such as weapons and propulsion. But the shield is controlled by dual-engines that work in tandem. By working together, their individual power isn’t doubled, it’s squared. We’ve been able to put the system through hours of testing without worrying about particle draw. There is a protocol in place to remove the TD Blanket from the system, but we have yet to encounter such a situation in even the most stressful tests.”
This put her in even more awe. “Incredible. So, how do you make it work? I saw the technician pounding away on the controls. Is this something that has to be calibrated while in use?”
The girl at the controls nodded. “That’s right. Not only that, but you have to constantly adjust the system. It’s part of how we keep the power draw at a minimum. We can’t have the entire shield active at all times. The particle drain would rise exponentially. The job of the support technician in the fighter is to constantly adjust the shield to deal with income fire. While the pilot is doing the moving and fighting, it is your job to keep the shield right where it needs to be.”
“What that means,” the other technician continued, “is that you have to constantly be keeping track of battle data and adjusting the system on the fly. It’s like analyzing statistical probability in battle at all times and being able to adapt for it.”
The very idea sounded monumental. To constantly be tracking things, and watching every section to know where and when attacks would come in during the heat of battle, no ordinary pilot could do it. You’d have to be damn-near superhuman to do this. That’s when she suddenly felt the pride coming back. So this was what they were going to have her doing! A task that was as important as it was difficult. Let the people back home make fun of her. They had no idea what she was tasked with. The wings on her uniform looked a lot better again.
“I understand,” she said. “So, if I’m gonna be the support tech, then who’s the pilot?”
The Rear Admiral smiled at her. “I’m glad you asked. I believe the two of you are acquainted.”
Someone from the Academy! The idea put a huge smile on her face. So many able pilots who she would love to be paired up with. Put in countless hours to make sure they were perfectly in sync with one-another to be able to predict each other’s movements in battle. This was suddenly unbelievably exciting.
“They should be heading down to meet us right now. Let’s head out. Excellent work, everyone.”
The techs all stood up and saluted. Kate was having such a good day.
As they started back, Kate was already planning how things would go. Wake up early, study specs. Her and the pilot could spend hours in the simulator. Early mornings, whatever duty shifts they had, then the rest of their spare time would be getting to the point where they could read the tone of each other’s voice and predict each other’s actions. So many fantastic pilots she had graduated with, all of whom would be perfect for this. It almost made the wait to see who the pilot was unbearable.
Starting back across the hangar bay, she noticed something by one of the regular armors. The pilot was talking to someone. This was someone she definitely recognized. Fire red hair, freckles on her face, it was a woman who was the bane of her existence – Quinn. Back at the Academy, this girl was every problem that the instructors had. She was brash, cocky, and took horribly stupid risks. It all culminated on her taking off with a training armor and pulling a stupid stunt that got the machine trashed, as well as two others. Everyone just assumed that she was put on the short bus out of the Academy when she was packing up her bag and leaving. Good riddance, she had thought at the time. The Fleet didn’t need people like this infesting their corridors. What was she doing here? Maybe demoted and serving as a mechanic or something? The thought pleased her. Are they forcing her to fix the armors after she trashed one? Or mopping the floors? A fitting job.
“Ah, Lieutenant Jelineau!” the Rear Admiral called out.
Quinn looked up and ran over. She saluted.
“Sir! Lieutenant Ann Jelineau reporting for duty!”
“Glad to see you made it. Settled in?”
“Aye sir! So, when do I get to see this bird you’re gonna have me flying?”
She’s a pilot? There really is no justice in the galaxy. This is why people see the Directorate’s Fleet as a joke in some places.
“I just got done showing it to your support tech. I’ll give you the full tour as well. But, let me introduce you to your support. I believe the two of you are familiar with one-another.”
The two looked at each other and while they tried to hide it, it was all over their faces’ that neither liked this. Kate felt a pit in her stomach.
Oh no! This can’t be! Anyone but her!
Holding out her hand, Quinn looked right at her.
“Good to see you again.”
Taking it, both women squeezed tight.
And just like that, her good day was utterly destroyed.
Until next time, a quote,
“No man can be explained by his personal history, least of all a poet.” – Katherine Anne Porter