Memoirs of a Rockjack

Chapter Two

"All right, you maggots, assume attack formation!" The voice of Sergeant-Major Nathan Graham crackled through the communications link.

I slammed my control stick to the left, bringing my little Krait around to face the rest of my training squadron and then brought the engines up to their full twenty gees of power. Within moments, I had brought my ship into its assigned spot on the middle of the starboard "wing" of our delta formation.

"Well, well, well!" The sergeant announced a few moments later, "Looks like some folks have been putting in some simulator time! Not too shabby, people, but I want this down to less than five minutes!"

Nate Graham, our training sergeant, was a good man. He could be difficult to deal with if you pissed him off by missing a course correction or by dragging your feet during a formation assembly, but he also knew to tell us when we were doing well.

For the past two weeks we'd been practicing all kinds of maneuvers that, at first, seemed damn near impossible to accomplish with any degree of finesse. Well, one thing that Sergeant Graham taught us was that the impossible was only an illusion. Sure, we had to do some pretty intense practicing in the big simulator rooms every day, but every member of our six-Krait squadron did their part and today was a heck of an improvement over yesterday's performance!

After assuming attack formation, we ran a mock strafing run against various asteroid targets. The training we were receiving was extremely good and everyone improved at incredible rates. I can safely say that I learned more about flying in space during my eight weeks of training than I did in my four years at the Starpilot Academy on Lave. Graham and his assistants worked us to the bone and there wasn't a beating we didn't take, but we were learning to function as a single entity.

Naturally, there were days when at least one of us forgot about all of that. I admit I even got a bit pissed off at times. Hell, once I even got brought into Graham's office for a little "discussion" about the importance of strict discipline and unquestioning obedience to orders.

Looking back on it now, I know that they were trying to pack as much know-how into us as possible so we would survive our first encounter with a Thargoid battle fleet. Yet, out in the middle of the training grounds, hundreds of light years from the battle line, one had the tendency to forget that there was a war on.

Fortunately, we were beginning to see the results of our hard work. I can safely say that I wouldn't have been able to do half the stuff I had learned to do without the instruction of Sergeant-Major Graham and Corporals Fullbright and Karnakov.

* * * * *

Aside from the space combat, we also had quite a regimen of physical training! By the time we reached the halfway point of our training course at Eta Cassiopeia, I'd put on quite a bit of muscle mass and developed the necessary control to use it well. If anyone was thinking about starting trouble with me when I came back home, they'd probably think again when I actually showed up!

The next day, after a semi-decent breakfast, we had our Physical Training midterm. I passed the test with flying colors and, as a result, got a 12-hour station leave pass as well as an extra fifteen minutes of water time allotted to my shower card! That was enough to let me take what Navy folks call a Hollywood shower! Normally, in combat conditions, you need to conserve perishables, including water. This meant you had to learn to use the shower in quick bursts. I don't know, I think that was just one of the many stupid little traditions held over from ages long gone. Recycling systems were decent enough even then to where a six-man ship crew could take three-hour showers one right after the other and still have enough clean water to keep the toilets flushing constantly and use the sink in the galley! Still, they felt it necessary to turn decent showers into rewards with the stupid card system and it did seem to have the desired effect! The extra fifteen minutes of water time meant I was able to shower just like I used to at home, with the water splashing down on me the whole time! I tell ya, when you're deprived of that sort of thing for a long enough time, coming back to it even for just one day makes it into quite a treat!

I strutted out of that barracks shower feeling like a million credits, went over to my locker, and pulled on a new set of pressed black and red INRA coveralls. I noticed that I really had filled out quite a bit since I'd started my training and was pleased about that too. I mean, the INRA uniform already made a person look like a badass, but to be bulked up enough to be intimidating in normal civilian attire and to be in my uniform was a sight to behold! At least, that's what the girl behind the bar at the Navy Seal seemed to imply when I showed up and ordered myself a bottle of Lavian Malt.

I admit, I was quite happy with myself. I had taken on a great challenge when I asked to join the special joint task force and I'd exceeded my own expectations in my training. I will say that I've always had quite a killer instinct when it came to accomplishing my goals and it served me very well here at the Navy Proving Grounds.

It was at that moment that something caught my eye... or rather someone caught my eye. No, it wasn't a girl this time... though there were a few real lookers there that night, all with other guys from my training wing who got full marks on our PT midterm or with other INRA or Federal Navy personnel.

There weren't too many Feds in the Navy Seal, however. I was told that they didn't generally hang out at places frequented by us INRA folks. I suppose it was just that age-old inter-service rivalry that kept us apart. Well, I suppose I could understand that. I knew that lots of guys in the Federal and Imperial Militaries thought us to be a bunch of bloodthirsty freaks who were only being used as a desperate last-ditch attempt at stopping the Thargoid invasion. Still, the folks wearing blue and gray were more than welcome to help us out. I imagined that if things kept going as they were, we'd eventually have to draw directly from the two Galactic Powers in order to keep the battle line as thick as it was.

When that happened, would there be animosity? I wondered, Or would the fact that humanity was hanging onto its turf by the skin of its teeth make everyone realize that we were all in it together?

"Hey! Private Weaver!"

I was abruptly jerked out of my thoughts by a tenor voice coming from the tavern doorway. I turned toward the source of the voice and was startled by the tall thin blond haired man as he crossed the floor quickly toward me. Something told me I should've known who he was and my thoughts raced as I tried to remember. Suddenly it came to me, though I simply didn't believe it.

"Ron Dreyfuss?"

The tall gentleman stood proudly before me and extended his hand saying, "In the flesh and damned glad to be here!"

So, the boy finally told his father off and joined the service like he wanted to. Man, he's not messing around either! I thought, as I took note of the fact that he, too, was attired in the black and red coveralls of the Interstellar Navy Representative Amalgamation. The only way our uniforms were in any way different were the shiny black plastic name badges on our right pocket flaps.

"Well, well, well, so you decided to come on out and show us how rich kids fight," I laughed as I shook the younger man's hand and motioned for him to have a seat.

"Something like that," he responded and sat in the next stool.

"So, what exactly happened to get you sent out here?" I asked, feeling very curious.

Ron took a swig from a Solar Stout and sighed.

"Well, to make a long story short, I told my Dad I wanted to join the military," he said, looking into his drink.

"And?" I asked.

"He started talking like I was going off to hang out with friends. He kept asking, 'Well, how are you gonna run the business when you're in the service?' It was like he had no concept of anything but me helping him with his lousy mining company." Ron took another drink of his beer. I did the same, not able to take my eyes off of the forlorn gentleman in the black and red coveralls.

I decided to venture a guess, "So, you just packed up and left after that?"

Ron slammed his empty beer mug onto the counter, people on the other side of the ring-shaped bar stopped their conversation and regarded us.

Oblivious to the reaction of the nearby patrons, Ron replied, "The bastard never took me seriously! He never asked me what I wanted to do with my life! I figured, now that I was free, why not really live life to the fullest? So, I requested a transfer to the INRA forces."

Hoboy, I thought. Sounds to me like he's looking to take his anger out on the Thargoids. That can be a good thing, but it can also be very very dangerous. I wondered why I was thinking along these lines. For all I knew, Ron was just as committed as I was to the cause we were fighting. I suppose I was just surprised that, after hearing how he wanted to be a Federal courier, I was seeing him taking on the ultimate challenge of becoming a part of the elite joint task force.

That got me thinking. Why exactly am I here? I was fortunate to have a supportive family, but I wondered if I'd really thought out my reasons for becoming an INRA pilot. Before my brain and manhood instincts began fighting for control, my heart spoke up, I want to do my part in the war effort. Even if I don't live more than thirty seconds in combat, those thirty seconds just might mean thirty more years of life for the rest of the Human race! The glory part? Sure that was appealing too, but what good's a chest full of medals if the Thargoids managed to punch through the battle line?

And it's a heck of a lot better than the mindless drivel of space trading! I thought to myself, almost saying it out loud.

Ron waved the bartender over as I finished off my malt. The tube topped woman strode over with a grace that had to have been well practiced, brushed her long dark hair out of her eyes and regarded the two of us expectantly.

The former rich kid leaned toward the pretty lady and asked, "You have any decent shooters here?"

The bartender cast a gaze toward ceiling, as she accessed her mental catalog of drinks. After a moment, she looked back at us saying, "Well, if you want really strong shots, we have Arcturan Mega-Gin, Bacardi 151, Sirian Whiskey, Cuervo 3000, Saint Pete, and Merlin Mintz."

Just hearing the list began to make me feel lightheaded. I heard Ron say, "How 'bout two Mega Gins."

"Okay," the lovely woman nodded and strode off to the far end of the bar. There, she opened up a small freezer and pulled out two small foil-wrapped cubes. Then, she produced a shotglass and emptied the contents of a package into one of them. After repeating the gesture, she then stuck the two glasses under a tiny red lamp situated just to the left of the freezer. After about ten seconds, she glanced at her watch, then removed the shots and presented them to us.

"There you go, boys," she said, "six credits."

Ron had already inserted his credit card and punched in some numbers indicating a rather hefty tip. Just seeing the bartender's expression go from shock to abject disbelief to sheer joy made it all worth it.

"Thank you so much!" she said.

"You're very welcome," Replied Ron Dreyfuss with a casual grin.

Hmmm, looks like someone's hoping to make the most of his off-duty pass! At the moment, I began to wish I'd done what he just did and began to feel very jealous. Ah well, my time will come, I thought, still feeling a little less than adequate.

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Three

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