Chapter Eight

Those Who Slay Together, Stay Together

MARK

The ship slowed to a stop, I could hear that we dropped out of hyperspace. I didn't know why, then John said over the comm system that we were making a stop to fill up on our resourcing quota. He didn't sound too happy about it.

Saiin came over. He was with Paul and that strange Kadeshi kid. It was shift change, so they all went to work leaving Saiin with Arazis and I. The three of us went up to the auditorium.

"So you slept in?" I asked.

He showed us a bottle of pills. "Actually, I decided I'd much rather like to start thinking straight again." I read it, Escitalopram.

"You know you get addicted to these, right?" I said. I didn't know much about antidepressants, only that they rarely if ever work the way you want them to. Post-landfall, these small pills were everyone's best friends as it seemed.

I'll never forget that one kid. A Sjet boy. One of the new pilots at the school who was training directly under me. He started on some pills, but they had the exact opposite effect. He became increasingly depressed and suicidal, worse than he was to start with. He lost both his parents in the Taiidan assault on the cryotrays. He was one of the few that were saved from that damaged area. Just a bit of bad luck. After three weeks of taking some kind of pills, I found him tying a noose on one of the railings of the jet hangar. It looked as if his arms and legs had more cuts than skin. There weren't any words I could say to him that would be good enough to help. We got to talking, and he knew it was the pills.

All I could do was tell him about that time watching my whole world burn to ash and glass. Nothing I knew prior could compare to that. It was so much to take in, I didn't want to believe it was actually happening. I told him that this was something we all had to face, something we all had to come to terms with. I then told him of my dad who died fighting, he died protecting everyone, and how I knew I could never be him, yet there were people who expected me to, so I tried to be. It was my only goal that really mattered, getting everyone safely to the homeworld, and I would die trying. I told him that we were all like that, or at least someday we would be remembered that way. One day the next generation will look back on how strong we had to be. They wouldn't remember the weak hearts, the ones who weren't strong enough to earn a place in Balcora. I think he understood what I meant. To be remembered, we had to be great. To be great, we had to fight. After that night, I could tell. He graduated a few months later, and then went off to a carrier fleet somewhere. He's one of the best I've met out of the people I've trained in these four years after landfall.

"If it works, what do I care?" he said bringing me back to reality.

"And if it doesn't?" I said. There was a long silence after that.

"I'll be fine. Stop worrying about me." he walked away. He didn't want to talk about it anymore.

We were alone now. She leaned in on my shoulder. "Saiin's fine, Mark."

"Can you be sure? There's a lot spinning around in his mind."

"I'm sure."

I embraced her. "And what about you?"

"I'm fine too."

"Liar." I said before kissing her cheek. We decided to go do something a little more productive with our free time.

ERIC

"Good morning." she said. He groaned and sat up. "Wait, since when are you up before me?" he said.

"I was woken up by the drop from hyperspace." she said.

"Huh? We're out? I thought we were on a tight schedule."

He got dressed and they left to go eat. Isel was there with some of her squad members, so they decided to go over to them instead of being alone as usual. It was a day before arriving at the prison planet. Karu was there too, which was surprising.

"Was wondering when you two would get up. If I have to get you up tomorrow to fight some surprise ambush, you won't like me."

"She means it." Kaal said. He laughed, and promised to be awake and on schedule next time.

"Hey there, haven't even seen you yet since we got here." he said to Karu.

"Yeah sorry about that. It's nice seeing the two of you off-world and in the game again."

"Only missing that Sobani now, eh?" Joss said.

"Oh he's off doing his own work." Eric said. "Off to Kadesh, of all places."

Conversation continued as they ate. They found out the carrier was out of transit to harvest and build up their fleet, and train the pilots in the meantime.

"We'll be out running practice drills soon. Do you know who's on your squad?" Isel asked as they were walking to the hangar.

"Not really." Triikor said. "We just know that three others will be joining us out there."

"Well you'd better communicate with them. We don't want another Blood Squad now do we?" she said referring to Mark's habit of being incapable of keeping his last two wingmen alive.

"I'm a better squad leader than Mark. You'll see." he said.

"Alright, just don't let your confidence kill you out there." they went to their own ships.

The drills were made to put squads up against each other. They were using weak lasers so no one gets hurt. That didn't change the fact that it still felt real. They were put against all the other squadrons in a free for all dogfight.

"Bank up and turn left." he said.

"But they'll be right on our tails then!" one of his wingmen said.

"Just do it. I know what I'm doing." he said.

"I see what you're going for. Alright." Triikor said.

They did the maneuver and the enemy took the bait. They went full ahead at them. "Break away and come up behind, then pick your targets!" he yelled.

"Four, follow me. Three and Five go opposite to us." she said.

"Roger!" they did as instructed, and Eric spun around and fired right at them. He dodged lasers form every direction, then dropped down out of the crossfire as the others came up from behind to take all five of them out by their engines.

"Ah! What the hell was that? Alright, you guys won. Squad Four is out."

"Any more surprises like that we should know about?" said Three panting.

"Maybe a few. What? Can't handle it? Guess what, in battle, there is no time to think. No time to plan. You need to think instantly. Trix helped you today, but we'll all be caught up in the chaos in the future that we won't be able to help you. That's maneuver number six. Anything that complicated we'll give you a short warning right before. I'll do my best to try and keep you all alive, but don't think you don't need to do any of the work. If you see something we don't, say it. If I wanted you three as nothing but extra guns, I might as well just go pilot a corvette." It was silent.

"We understand. You wanna fly with the best, you have to be the best."

"In from the upper-right and lower-right." said Four.

"Squads Three and One finally showing up to the fight? Alright this one is number eight. It works better in squads of seven, but it'll be fine with five." he said.

Triikor led two others down to what was left of Squad Three, four interceptors, meaning they lost one already. They spiraled down and looped up, firing on them from the bottom, taking two out. In the meantime, Eric led his last wingman spiraling up doing the opposite of what the others were doing, and firing on Isel's squad from the top.

"Nice try, Eric. But I know that one." Isel said. She spun back in a complex maneuver to counter their plan.

"Drop!" he yelled. His confused wingman followed him, dodging as many lasers as he could, but his sensor went red and his ship stopped.

"Looks like I'm out." he said.

He panicked in frustration, and pulled up and around to the left, firing on her wingmen. Triikor and the others regrouped after being done with their targets.

"She saw through it, did she? Well then. Let's show her something new."

"Eleven?"

"That's what I was thinking."

"Everyone scatter and pull back around. But before you do, you'll notice them doing the same to try and get you from behind as well. Jerk your ships out of it, and fire on them as their guard is down while turning." he said.

"Got it."

From behind, it looked like their formation exploded, and sent them all flying up, down, side, around from every direction.

"What the... alright chase them down!" Isel said to her pilots.

"Now!" Triikor yelled. They flipped their ships back and fired while recovering from the inertia of the move. They took out Joss and three others, leaving only Isel and Kaal who broke out of the turn at the last minute as they saw what was going on.

"Yeah!" Five yelled.

"Don't get too excited. We're not done." he said. "Now then. Do we charge in, or would that be taking the bait."

"Charge. They lost three of their pilots, I doubt they planned for that." she said.

"That's what I'm thinking. Okay, let's do that." he charged with the others, and fired. But their targets broke apart, and came in from the sides.

"Break away! Damn, shouldn't have underestimated her." Eric said. They did, but one wingman was shot down. Five, that overconfident fool.

"Good one Isel, seems you don't even need a Spectre to vanish from sight." he complimented.

"How the hell do you handle that pull?" she asked.

"I think I'm gonna be sick." Four said before his mic cut out in the disgusting sound of breakfast erupting from his stomach.

"Call it a tie?" he asked.

"Sure. I thought you'd be rusty after all that time on-world."

"I'll admit it, I underestimated you too. Now let's take a break."

In the hangar, he could hear Isel's voice loud as ever, yelling at her wingmen as if it was their fault.

"But how could it'a been our fault? One of theirs got sick from the whole thing! Damn Gaalsien has skills!" Joss said. She almost hit him but she noticed his squad members walking over.

"So what was that?" she asked.

"An Eleven." was his simple response.

And what if you were in battle? How do you recover from that if they all get inertia sickness?"

"Well, if they did it right, they'd have turned completely around falling back into their seats instead of being pulled to the side and then back."

"Not everyone has our experience, Eric! That's dangerous!"

"And so is being out there to begin with. I almost died doing the simple task of docking. I know the risks of taking off. I'm trying to shake them up a little is all."

They heard a loud metal clank on the deck floor. They turned and saw the older man with one eye.

"Ooh Kesto ain't none too happy about what you done to his deck." Joss said.

"Huh? Oh. The vomit." the clank was a hose. He was staring right at Eric, right into his eyes. He got a bit nervous. "It's all in the training, right? Heh..." then he walked away with the hose to the fighter with the pool of breakfast under it. They drained the ship, but now Kesto had to clean up the rest. And he didn't look impressed.

"Alright then, let's not try that too often. In the meantime, try and toughen your stomachs up. Spicy food. It helps." Triikor said.

"Yes ma'am." the others left to relax a bit until the next training run.

"Seems I beat you again, haven't I." Kaal said.

"Oh shut up, you got lucky. I tried to pull outa there too but didn't make it. That Taiidan over there... She's a snake. Once she bites, can't run from the venom." he said glaring at her. She laughed.

The day continued on with more training. They got used to their ships again, and got to know how how the others flew. In the meantime, they had harvested all the resources in the area and built up a large fleet. Dozens of frigates of all kinds, corvette squadrons, and a few more fighter and bomber wings. After that, the day was done. The captain engaged the hyperdrive, and they would be at the prison planet the next day.