[John, a graduate engineer, wanted a quiet life with no adventures and little change; instead he was thrust into the life of a fighter saucer pilot in the thick of a losing war with computer-like Reptilians from another dimension. The compensation was that John loved speed, and nothing is as fast as a fighter saucer.]
The bright yellow letters of the ID display on the locker door contrasted with the dull grey of the rest of the utility room. In the runic letters of Tzonlar, the universal language of the Galactic League, the display read:
3rd Lieutenant, Galactic Patrol
Commander and Lead Pilot
Fighter Saucer JXQ 23901
John O’Donnell stowed his kitbag in his locker, shut the door and said: “Lock.” The yellow letters changed to blue. With a small cloth carryall in his hand he walked out of the utility room and over to the command console on the bridge deck, situated at the center of the fighter Saucer. He took a visual inventory of the consoles and equipment in the domed space.
This was going to be his first sortie as a commander; anxiety got the better of him. He returned to the utility room and flipped up the hatch of the engine room. He descended into the cramped space and ran through a perfunctory checklist that was hardly necessary. He returned to the bridge deck and sat down in his seat. His palms were sweating. This was it. For months he had been following the horrific news about the enemy invasion, but now it was his turn to take part in the combat.
“Well,” he said to the empty room, “if anyone tries to tell me that life in outer space is a great dream, I’ll slug ‘em one. It’s nothing but one struggle after another.” He wasn’t feeling sorry for himself (well, maybe just a bit), but things had not gone his way.
His way had been a secure engineering job in a life with well-designed parameters, no special attachments and no sudden bumps. Nothing like what had begun happening five months ago: being abducted, apprenticed into the Pilots’ Guild and thrust into a course of rigorous training that was akin to slave labor.
And now with the outbreak of the war, he had been mobilized into the Galactic Patrol and trained to be a Fighter Saucer pilot with the rank of 3rd lieutenant. It was quite conceivable that he would be blown into cosmic dust on his first mission. He closed his eyes for a moment and let his memory take him back in time….
…After quite a while, it was finally John’s turn. He was understandably nervous as he sat down at the training console, in the lead pilot’s seat.
“Ensign,” Brian said with a smirk in his tone, “do I have to explain the controls to you or have you done your preparation assignment?”
“I’ve done my assignment, sir,” John answered deadpan. He thought, “Why the fuck does Brian enjoy making me miserable?”
“We’ll soon see if you understood everything you helmeted, ensign. Take this ship out of its parking slot and cruise her away from the mother ship.”
“Yes, sir,” John replied. He then went through the same procedure as earlier with Niftkar. When he got the go ahead signal he touched the flight alarm, released the two locking devices that held this smaller Saucer to its berth and then activated the engine on the lowest level of power possible.
The Saucer slipped out without any vibration and John immediately upped the power just the right amount to take the Saucer out about ten kilometers.
“Don’t stop, ensign. Put this baby into a circular orbit around the freighter and then when you return it to this point take us to within a kilometer of the nose of the freighter.”
“Sir!” said John with some enthusiasm. He gripped the joy stick and sent the Saucer into a perfect circular orbit at a speed of about three hundred kilometers per minute, the highest speed recommended for the first lesson of a beginning pilot. John had noted the exact position of the start of the orbit and cruised from there to the ship’s nose.
“Okay,” Brian said quietly. “Now go through the ten standard evasive moves and then the eight standard attack moves.”
John went through each of the movements in the order that he had learned them from the feed program. There was no jerkiness in the moves and nobody felt any discomfort during them.
“Fine, good,” Brian said crisply, “keep it up ensign and you might become a fighter pilot.” He was extremely surprised and very impressed at how John handled the Saucer, but he had no intention of telling that to John. “Johnny handled this baby as if he were doing those moves everyday for years,” he thought. “Never saw anything like this before on a trainee’s first day.”
Brian had to admit that his cousin seemed to know exactly what he was doing. Most beginners had some trouble knowing how much they had to move the sticks, and over or under estimated what was necessary. Somehow John melded with the controls immediately and all his actions were incredibly accurate. From the very first time he had sat down at the controls of the training Saucer, in Niftkar’s class, he had known exactly how to handle them. Niftkar had also been impressed, but had finally assumed that John had received previous Saucer training from a relative in the Patrol.
The only possibly equivalent training that John had experienced had been with computer simulations and games.
Now, watching him expertly ply the controls, Brian thought, “I guess Johnny’s fate isn’t in my hands. I was hoping he’d really screw up and not be a combat pilot. Pilots are getting killed too fast out there. Poor Sinok is gone. He was one of my first roommates in the reformatory. He’s dead and gone without ever having a kid to keep his name going. But there is little I can do now to prevent the inevitable. Johnny’s got what it takes!”
[Billy was bored by life. Nothing excited him and after teaching high school science for a short time he had decided to join the marines as had his father and grandfather before him. When he was shanghaied into a Galactic society at war, he decided to join what he thought was the equivalent of the marines, but found himself in circumstances that he had never anticipated…]
The next morning (if you can call it a morning with only the dim light of the secondary sun shining) came too soon for Billy. Bright lights flashed on in the barracks and a strange military tune was blasted at full volume from all directions at once. He woke up startled and afraid.
A voice blared out: “You have five minutes to shower, dress, and get out to the warm-up field. Anyone late will be punished!”
Billy had climbed down and up again once in the dark during the night, but now in the bright lights he realized that his bunk was at least thirty feet up in the air. He was also a little slower than most, being afraid of falling, and not being in all the best shape. Where all of the others just slid down with their hands and feet clutching the smooth outer surface of the ladder, he went down one rung at a time. He just reached the floor when everyone else was already in the shower. Before he reached the outside, he heard the announcement that the five minutes were up, and he knew that he was in trouble.
Two of the nine-foot humanoids (that Billy thought of as monster goons) grabbed him by his arms and pulled him to the side. While they bent him over, a third guard hit him once on the backside with his stick; it felt like he was hit with a baseball bat at full force. The pain was memorable, and the guards just left him there and went to grab another latecomer. He looked around and saw that all the others who had gotten caught by the guards were young like him; the older soldiers were already on the field. There was one unlucky young woman among those who got caught, but not from the cloneship.
An officer came over to their unhappy little group and told them: “You’ve just gotten a taste of what you can expect every time you break the rules. Run and join your group. Now!“
Billy ran with the small group until they found the rest of the five hundred from their barracks. Everyone was standing at attention within grid markings on a field. One of the huge guards pointed to each one of the latecomers and then to the grid space in which he was required to stand.
Billy could see a bluish sun rising above the horizon. The sky was partly cloudy, but he could discern two moons in the sky. Strange birds, as large as condors, flew screeching overhead. They were brightly feathered in yellow, blue and purple, and occasionally dived down to right above the soldier’s heads and flew away screeching.
“Well, I’m now in a horror flick all right,” he thought to himself in English. For the last few days he had been thinking in Tzonlar. “I wonder if it has a happy ending.”
A disembodied voice that seemed to come from everywhere at once, more felt than heard, started belting out orders. Jump in place, run in place, touch the ground, etc. The exercises weren’t so bad at first. Billy felt better as the tension began to drain out of his body with the motions of the exercises. As the voice continued on and on to bellow orders, he began to feel tired; his leg muscles were getting sore and cramped.
“Why are these warm up exercises taking so long?” he wondered.
After half an hour he was already out of breath. Seeing everyone around him still going strong, he pushed himself to continue. Another fifteen minutes passed and his lungs began to ache, his calves were burning and he was just beginning to panic. When would they let him stop? Everyone else, it seemed to him, was still doing fine. He pushed himself to the limit and just as he felt that he was about to faint, the voice ordered: “At ease!”
“Finally!” he thought. But instead of feeling better he went into a coughing fit. No one paid attention to him. His coughing got worse and he felt vulnerable and had no idea what to do.
A thought appeared in his mind “Think orange! Think orange light in your lungs!”
Coughing violently now, Billy decided: why not? What else could he do? He concentrated on orange light and decided that it should take the form of a huge cough drop and should taste like a sweet orange candy. He mentally swallowed the imaginary cough drop and saw it light up his lungs with orange light. To his amazement the coughing eased and finally stopped.
“Attention!” This time the voice came from somewhere overhead. “We will now take a short march. The first lap will be twenty kilometers. The second lap of thirty kilometers will bring you to dinner and rest for a full thirty minutes. Then you will march back to base. Anyone falling out will be punished. Those of you expecting breakfast should try not to be too disappointed to learn that there is no breakfast in basic training. Robots will provide you water as needed.”
The huge guards herded them into columns of ten across, and the order to march was heard. Billy was marching next to Al of the cloneship and two heads away from Falia. Somehow being close to them gave him strength. Their column marched at a pace that made Billy’s legs burn after a short while. The giant guards marched easily beside their column, striding confidently. If anyone faltered or slowed down, a monster guard would point his stick at him, in a menacing manner, to urge him on.
Billy asked himself sternly why he had thought that he wanted this training in the first place. “Can I screw up quickly enough to get thrown out before I die?” he pondered.
[Brian‘s friends, especially John, were the target’s, and bore the brunt of his sarcasm They didn’t understand that Brian had more trouble in his background than just a stint in the Patrol reformatory, that he was driven by an underlying bitterness and an overriding motivation to succeed.]
“When it was time for me to be apprenticed, my grandfather had a hard time finding me a master. He could have gone to Gakov, but he was ashamed and embarrassed because of what my Dad had pulled. My Dad had been Gakov’s apprentice, as my sweet little cousin probably told you. In the end he had to send me to a master who was known to be very tough. He took all the bad boys and delinquents and beat them into shape.
“But I wasn’t that type of kid. I was a smart aleck because it covered up my fears. I had always been a mischief, but that’s not the same as a delinquent.”…
…”It’s true though, that in the Guild Basic School, like High School on Earth – No, wait a minute. It’s not like high school at all. High school on earth is supposed to prepare you to go out into the work-world or to college.
“Basic School is more like a summer camp with some studying on the side: mostly math, basic science and Galactic citizenship. Its real goal is to get you to be a responsible individual and a good member of a team. I had good academic marks, more or less, but my discipline record was one of the worst. Not that I wasn’t responsible when I felt like it. And I was a good member of a team except that I was what they called a negative leader who liked to organize pranks and illegal excursions. You see I was a very angry teenager after I found out that my Dad had intentionally abandoned me, and I acted out my anger by breaking the rules. That didn’t help my grandfather in his search for a master either.
“There were two other apprentices with me at that time. They were the sort of brats that needed to be pushed around a lot to make them wake up and be responsible.
“What drove me actually to commit suicide—because I did actually mean to kill myself—was the fact that this SOB of a master, the Master from Hell as I thought of him, didn’t have any set rules; he was totally arbitrary. You had to figure him out again every day. Sometimes if you really intentionally screwed up, he’d just laugh. At other times, if you made just a little mistake, he’d take out that infamous Guild paddle—out of the little drawer under his console—and beat you, hard and in public, right there on the bridge deck, until you wanted to just end your life right there. Everybody laughs at you when you’re getting it, but it’s no joke. And that’s what happened to me on my twenty-first Earth birthday.”…
…”I had cut my wrists three times before, but here that’s nothing to fix up. They should have reported my previous suicide attempts, but they kept them under wraps because of the questions that might have been asked. However, when I decided to do away with myself that last time, I planned it quite well. I had two hours while locked up in detention to plan how to hide myself so well that they wouldn’t find me in time. Even in this advanced civilization, there’s a limit on how long you can be dead and still be revived….
…”But how did they find you if you had hidden yourself so well and you were dead?”
“Brain waves of course. I had only been dead for a few minutes, so with a little amplification they were able to track me down.”…
…”I had a short trial, which was a frightening experience in itself. Three high masters from the Guardians of the Guild together with two civil judges grilled me and my master and the other apprentices and anyone else they could find.
“They decided that my master had treated me arbitrarily. He was told that the Guardians would be supervising him from now on, but he was allowed to keep his other apprentices.
“I was told that I had been insubordinate and had engaged in acts of criminal mischief. Actually, that part was pretty well true. I had deliberately screwed things up on a number of occasions, and as you might recall I was an innovative prankster, so it earned me the status of an incorrigible juvenile delinquent. Also, suicide is considered to be an act of murder in the League, so I was convicted, as a juvenile felon, of attempted murder.
“To make a long story short, I was taken away in chains to the reformatory on the prison planet in the Bodehda system, where I spent nearly seven years. It was hell in the beginning but slowly I got used to it. I got less and less angry, and started to learn things. They had rules which weren’t arbitrary; I knew what was expected of me, and I knew exactly what they would do if I screwed up. I learned how to work with my hands doing all kinds of different jobs. I learned discipline, self-control, teamwork, basic piloting and body building. And most of the other guys in the reformatory were more like me—wise asses, not delinquents. I still have a lot of friends from the Reformatory; fifteen of us went on together, on probation, to the Patrol Academy.”
Brian stood up. “What you’ve got to get from this, Johnny, is that rules are made to protect. No matter how arbitrary they look to you. When I was with the master-from-hell who had no set rules, I didn’t know what was expected of me, so how could I have learned how to behave or know how to stay out of trouble?
“Now you’re in an army situation and you’ll have to learn to put up with lots of rules; and most of those rules will be alien to you and you’ll want to rebel. Don’t! You’ll just make trouble for yourself….
…Brian’s first encounter with the Rep fighters was one that would haunt his nightmares for years. Two weeks (twenty days) after his first fight with the Rep transports, Brian met the enemy fighters. His squadron had the tenth encounter with the Rep fighters in all the Patrol stations.
Brian and his squadron were waiting on the sidelines for their turn at battle. There had been a strange hour-long lull in the fighting. Brian was observing Wavly’s squadron, which still used the standard cylinder pattern. Wavly had been one of his instructors in the Patrol Academy.
A materialization occurred suddenly in his territory, and his squadron waited for the full materialization before firing. The fighter ships, however, had already managed to cloak themselves visually before they had totally materialized. Wavly’s squadron was fired upon before they had a chance to return fire. The Patrol ships were partially cloaked, but the Rep fire interfered with the power systems. This gave the Rep ships a few seconds advantage.
While the Patrol Saucers were readjusting their systems the Rep fighters were already firing upon them. In the first seconds of the fight, Wavly and six of his ships were hit and blown to dust. The remainder of the squadron closed in on the formation of the Rep squadron and fought them in a typical Saucer battle of dodge and surprise. They managed to destroy all the Rep fighters, but only five of the Patrol squadron remained out of the original twenty-four.
Brian had watched this battle from the side lines, and even as he mourned his old instructor’s death, his brain went into gear. At the next shimmering, he and his squadron were ready. They were in the hemispheric formation and Brian gave the order to waste energy by firing on the pre-materialized ships. In this way they caught the Reps before they could cloak themselves. Four of the Reptilian Saucers were destroyed just as they materialized, with no losses to Brian’s squadron. Then they were into a Saucer battle.
Brian was learning to respect the flexibility of the enemy’s maneuvers. The ships themselves seemed almost to be alive. “They must have something like gravity mod, inertia-free acceleration,” Brian told his crew. Nevertheless, now the Patrol ships had the same potential. The pilots and the new Saucers melded into a being with a near perfect flow of movement, and they danced with the Rep ships in a deadly tango, each trying to fire while dodging the enemy’s fire, or more exactly getting out of the way of anticipated enemy fire since blue beams and lasers traveled at light speed. (This was not as impossible as it sounds, since they were trained to react to anticipated fire through standard fast analysis of the enemy’s moves.)
Guided missiles were very impractical in these close quarter fights where everyone was moving very fast and the missiles might hit Patrol ships by accident.
Brian had the first kill. He had let loose his blue beams and his lasers, quickly one after the other until he saw his prey explode into space dust. Then he moved his ship to help the closest of his fighters, who was also throwing the combination of blue beam and lasers. Brian added a guided missile—just one—which he managed to send into the underbelly of the Saucer. This Reptilian ship also blew up into space debris. This was another of his innovations, since it was usual for the fighters to take on the enemy one-on-one. As each ship in his squadron destroyed its target it would move to the next nearest target even if it was ‘occupied’ by another Patrol Fighter. That way they could double the firepower against each enemy and confuse the Reptilian pilots about whom to fight first. Brian had read that in previous encounters, Reptilians usually preferred to fight one-on-one and would even wait their turn to get into a fight, as had the Patrol up until now.
“Damned stupid if you think about it,” Brian had explained to his co-pilot before the fight. “We are in a life and death struggle here, not a boxing match; fairness is not an option anymore.”
The Rep ships seemed not to know whether to fight or to risk taking a jump stance that could make them vulnerable for a few deadly seconds. Brian’s weapons techs bit into their third kill of the day and it disintegrated. After ten minutes, his squadron, with the help of its buddy system, had taken out all of the Rep ships, with only one partially disabled Saucer and no loss of life. Their adrenaline was high and they took on the next shimmering, out of turn.
“Major Din? This was supposed to be our call!”
“Major Wenat? We’re in good form, my boys and I want to have some more fun, have a cup of wiffle on me and relax for a while!”
“Can do; just inform me next time.”
Brian found that his own ancestral blood lust could match that of their enemy. It had to be so. That day, and all watches after that, Brian and his squadron took on almost twice as many fights as they were required.
His successful buddy system of fighting was quickly adopted by all the other squadrons in his sector, and later also incorporated into the Patrol’s official methods.
Brian felt, with great satisfaction, that he was doing what he had wanted to do since he had first learned of his father’s disgrace. He was rehabilitating the family name. He had never spoken of this ambition to anyone, but it was one of his primary motivations and the fuel for his fire.
[Life in the Four Galaxies, in and out of the military can be varied and confusing –even to the natives. John’s ignorance of Guild customs got him engaged to a girl he had not yet even talked to.]
A woman was gracefully walking down a flight of stairs. She was carefully and reverently carrying something that looked like a blue cloth. A beautiful girl in her mid-teens was carefully and slowly walking down the stairs behind her, carrying a medium size glass goblet in a narrow cone shape with a long silver-filigreed stem and no base. The woman slowly walked up to John.
“John,” Brian stage whispered in English. “Don’t take the tunic if you can help it and don’t drink the wine.”
The woman handed John the blue fabric, which she had opened out to reveal a tunic. John took it from her, not wanting to be impolite. The woman then stood to the side.
The girl with violet eyes and gold blond hair walked up to John. She looked at him wordlessly for a very long time. Then she brought the goblet to her lips and took a sip. She then kissed the rim of the goblet and handed it slowly to John.
“No, Johnny, hell no!” Brian yelled, this time almost hysterically, while walking towards John. “Don’t drink it no matter what they say to you to convince you!”
“Please John—just trust me on this!”
“Why should I?” John asked, quietly fascinated by the girl and not being able to take his eyes off her.
Without waiting for Brian to answer, he drank down the contents of the goblet in one quick gulp while he continued to stare at the girl. And then, without knowing consciously why he did it, he threw the goblet forcefully to the floor where it shattered.
The woman, instead of being upset, just smiled. The girl walked to the remains of the goblet and picked up the filigreed stem. Looking intently at John she kissed the stem and put it in a pocket of her silken robe. The woman turned and walked up the staircase. The girl followed her, but when she was about to disappear from view, she turned and smiled at John. Then she turned again and ran upstairs out of view.
“That was even wilder,” Billy stated.
“You really screwed up Johnny,” Brian said with a sigh. “You really did it. You’re through. Even the best lawyer in the whole damn universe can’t save you now.”
“What did he do?” Billy asked with concern in his voice.
“He just signed, sealed and stamped an airtight contract on his whole friggin’ life is what he did! For one, drinking the glass down meant a complete acceptance of his initiation, and, in this case, taking his master’s daughter as his betrothed.”
[Billy encountered another kind of misunderstanding in regard to one of the oldest professions open to women anywhere in the universe.]
Swenwen and six of his buddies were sitting nearby when the presentation ended. Billy had somewhat recuperated from the liquor and could sit up without feeling too dizzy. These older and tougher looking men were huddled in a quiet conversation for a few minutes, occasionally glancing at Billy. Finally Swenwen turned to him.
“Have you had your three days yet, son?” he asked.
“My three days, sir?” Billy asked in return, having no idea what Swenwen was referring to.
“Has your father, or maybe your uncle, ever taken you to the hostesses?”
“Hostesses? Uh—you mean the women who give out the menus in restaurants?”
“No, that’s not what we’re referring to,” someone else said, smiling. “Haven’t you ever heard of the hostesses, son?”
Billy looked confused. “Are they the women who plan parties? Like the theme birthday parties for little kids?”
The older men looked at each other in disbelief.
“Didn’t your father ever talk to you about the things men do when their wives aren’t around?” another of the men asked.
“You mean like repairing vehicles, or going fishing?” Billy asked, having no clue at all what they wanted to say to him.
“Damn!” said Swenwen “How could he send this child here to endanger his life?” He stared at Billy for a few moments.
“Billy,” he said finally, “it’s not right that you’re here at all, but if you are here to play with death, you should at least have a taste of life before we go into training. We’ll arrange something.” They all got up and walked away.
“What in the world were they getting at?” Billy asked himself….
…Billy made an attempt to get up. He succeeded, but he swayed a bit. “Hell, I’d like to go out and see the sights tonight,” he complained to his feet. “Maybe I’ll go lie down for a while.” He left the hall and flagged down a bot to guide him back to his suite. When he got there he lay down on the bed fully clothed, and figured he’d soon recover and go out on the town. He fell right to sleep.
About two hours later he woke up with a start. He heard the door close, and felt, more than heard, someone enter his suite and walk quietly towards the bedroom door. Was this some kind of a test, he wondered. He stood up as silently as he could and was going to the light switch when he realized that he wasn’t dressed. “How the hell?” he thought to himself as he strode quickly to stand at the right side of the open bedroom door.
As soon as he switched on the lights, he pounced on the silent figure as it quietly entered the bedroom. He was totally surprised to find that the silent figure was a well-endowed, scantily clad female who effortlessly and elegantly flipped him over on his back onto the deep carpet.
“Honey,” she said laughing. “Easy does it. I’m your hostess for the whole night.”
“Who’s having a party?” asked Billy, his brain just beginning to compute what was happening.
“We are!” she assured him while kneeling down beside him.