“We can’t shake it!” Red 3 yelled.
“We’ve got three on our tail, Red Leader!” Red 4 yelled.
“Same here…,” then a burst of static sounded from the commo unit in Red Leader’s helmet.
“Mayday, Mayday,” screamed Red 2. “Ejecting now!”
“Red Leader to Blue Leader, over,” Red Leader said calmly into his helmet commo unit. “Red Leader to Blue Leader, over.” He repeated after a few moments a look of concern flashing over his features. “Blast. Scrak, can you locate Blue Leader?” he asked.
“Working,” the mechanic voice came over Red Leader’s helmet speakers.
“And while you’re at it, I need you to link up now with all the squad’s AIs and let’s get out of here!” Red Leader ordered.
“Working,” the reply from Red Leader’s AI came back.
“And again while you’re at it please stop that annoying melodramatic synthesized computer drivel that’s coming out of you,” Red Leader said. “We are deep in the stuff here, if you hadn’t noticed and that voice is getting to me.”
“Sorry, Sir, but I just wanted to bring down the excitement and endorphins that are flooding through your neuro systems,” announced Scrak. “I’m getting a distinct feeling that you are actually worried about this engagement.”
“The fact that we’ve lost Red One, Red Two has had to bail, I can’t raise Blue Leader, and I’ve mentioned that we’re in really deep in the stuff here, you are just now coming to the conclusion that I’m worried about this engagement?” Red Leader asked sarcastically.
“Syncd up with the other AI’s and plotted a course of action to get us out of this deep stuff, Red Leader,” Scrak stated.
In the wardroom all, the pilots in the latest simulation were present when Scrak and Second Lieutenant Marinero entered the room. They all came to attention as Marinero said, “At ease. Please be seated, we are going to go over each and every bit of data that the simulation computers downloaded from that fiasco that we just escaped from called maneuvers.”
“Second Lieutenant Marinero reporting as ordered, Sir,” he stated. With that remark and a smart salute, the Second Lieutenant stood at attention in front of Lieutenant Commander Torres.
“Stand at ease, Lieutenant and please grab a seat,” Torres said.
“Thank you, Sir.”
“The Admiral and I have been going over the reports submitted by the drone simulation instructors, Lieutenant.”
“Not a pretty picture is it, Sir?” Manolo asked.
“You are doing the best you can Lieutenant,” stated Torres. “I am afraid that we just don’t have the skill set needed to defend ourselves.”
“Yes, Sir,” said Manolo. “I get that now, but I had hoped that we could better our scores from week to week, not continually get worse.”
“If you haven’t noticed, the simulations are getting harder every week,” announced Torres.
“Yes, I had noticed that,” Manolo stated. “But again, Sir, we should be getting better in spite of them getting harder.”
“And that’s not the case?” Torres asked.
“Yes, Sir that’s not the case,” he stated. “May I ask a question?”
“Are the simulations being rigged in anyway, Sir?” Manolo asked.
“Define rigged Lieutenant?” Torres asked.
“Never mind Sir, you’ve just answered it,” Marinero said.
Torres chuckled. “No I didn’t,” he stated. “The simulations have been tweaked from time to time but only with your squad. Unfortunately, we don’t have to rig the other strike team’s simulations, Mister Marinero.”
“Am I to infer anything from that admission, Sir?” asked Manolo.
“I’ll let Scrak answer that question and continue the rest of the conversation, Lieutenant,” Torres announced.
“Lieutenant Marinero we have seen an improvement with your strike force and just your strike force specifically,” began Scrak. “We can only be attributed that to your leadership. Your men believe in you and will follow you into the jaws of death, should you chose lead them there.”
“I don’t know what to say, Vice Member,” announced Manolo.
“Say thank you to your men, in any way you’d like Lieutenant,” said Scrak.
“I will, Sir and thank you,” Marinero said.
“Just don’t make the mistake and tell them they are doing a great job,” advised Torres. “Maybe an adequate one but never great or they’ll relax and never achieve the next level.”
“Acknowledged, Sir,” Manolo said. “I’m worried that even though my strike force is outpacing the others, we continually fall short of the goals I have set up.”
“Give it another week, Lieutenant,” advised Torres. “By that time maybe those blocking our way will remove the hindrances and stop wasting the Empire’s time.” The Lieutenant Commander reached into his desk drawer and removed a box. He gently threw the box to Lieutenant Marinero.
Manolo caught it and looked up at the Lieutenant Commander. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Open it up and find out,” Torres said.
Manolo opened up the box and found a Lieutenant’s one bar insignia. “It’s all yours, First Lieutenant,” Torres stated. “Your father wanted to be here when you got it to personally pin it on you but was called away on a last minute meeting with the brass before we leave.”
“But…” Manolo began.
“But nothing, you deserve it,” Torres interrupted him. “Let’s take those second Luey bars off and replace them with these ones huh, First Lieutenant?”
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