Klingseis Chapter Nine
Prendable fills the next hour listing each section of the drill in excruciating detail. He makes sure that we understand the next 48 hours are “paramount to victory” and the smallest mismanagement of time can be the difference between success and disaster. Thankfully, I don’t appear to be the only senior staff member having a difficult time staying conscious through this briefing. I’m pretty sure Briggs was just staring at my chest for a solid fifteen minutes during the middle of the Portway siege demonstration.
It’s not that I don’t take this war game seriously. I’m more than excited to prove that I have the best pilots in the UPE. I’m just not interested in mucking it it up by concerning myself with what the rest of the ship is doing. I’m a pilot. My job is to lead my team to unleash hell on the enemy in the blackness of space. The frequency of the Ironsides’ magnetic shielding, and the calibration of the experimental new armaments is of little concern to me.
As much as I dislike Hale, I don’t doubt the readiness of his Marines. Darden is notorious for being a hard ass, so she wouldn’t allow her grunts to be ill prepared. They’ll get the job done. The entire crew will get the job done. We’ve been forged together as a machine. If we didn’t trust each other, the Ironsides never would have made it this far. We’ve been fighting off border skirmishes and isolationist factions for years. Our experience with the Ralgoths has been limited to simulations, but pulling the trigger in a cockpit feels the same, regardless.
Damn it. I’m starting to sound like Briggs.
“Lieutenant Kliengsis, can you speak to the readiness of your pilots?”
My heart jumps when I realize the Hycain Ambassador is addressing me. I must have zoned out when he took back the lecture. I act as if I’m clearing my throat to buy myself some time as I smooth my uniform and sit up straighter.
Let’s hope this is good.
“Mr. Ambassador, our elite unit, Laramie Squadron, is comprised of twenty of the most skilled, and highly-trained pilots in the military. We are currently prepared to engage any hostile force in fifteen minutes of notice. If our birds are already prepped, we can launch in five…. Over the past year, we’ve logged twenty-two hours per week in the simulator coinciding with a minimum of four hours per day behind the stick on patrol missions. My pilots are sharp, attentive, and considering the Ironsides has one of the best maintenance crews in the fleet, our fighters are second to none.”
The Ambassador begins to turn away as I involuntarily continue speaking. “We are ready for whatever you can throw at us, Ambassador.”
What the hell was that?!?
I’m not sure how the Ambassador took my closing remark, as I am currently having a difficult time pulling my gaze away from the table in front of me. After a moment, I hear the ambassador pose the same question to Darden and my heart slowly returns to its normal rhythm as she delivers her answer. After Darden, Linco makes his way through Richards and Hale and settles his gaze on Briggs.
“Lieutenant Commander Briggs?”
“Executive Officer Briggs, what is your opinion of the status of the crew of the Ironsides?”
Silence. We all turn to look toward our XO. He’s still staring at my chest.
Did that son of a bitch fall asleep while looking at my breasts?
The absence of chatter in the room seems to snap him back to life.
Briggs stiffened just a little before giving his report.
“The men and women of the Ironsides are ready.”
I’m surprised he didn’t finish that glorious tome with a wink and a “you’re welcome.”
The ambassador wasn’t quite won over by the XO’s confidence. “Lieutenant Commander Briggs that is not a satisfactory response. How many hours of simulated combat drills are you enforcing every week? What is the operational condition of your weaponry? How is your crew performing in physical training?”
I think Briggs just yawned.
“This ship and her crew are ready.” This time the Commander didn’t feel compelled to face the Ambassador. In fact, he didn’t appear to be addressing anyone except the wall above my head.
I’ve got to hand it to the old man, he doesn’t kowtow to anyone.
The dark brown of Linco’s hair is tinged toward black at the ends now. This must be an autonomic response to strong emotion in Hycains. The motley of colors combined with the rhythmic cycle of the hairs straightening and relaxing creates an image that I never could have previously imagined. I can hear my grandmother’s voice in the back of my head, “Run, it’s a porcupine from Hell!”
Yeah, she was definitely racist.
Commander Prendable closes in on the Ambassador, and puts a hand on one of his lean shoulders. “I think what Commander Briggs is attempting to convey is that the men and women of the Ironsides are exceeding all necessary requisites to be effective in all combat situations.”
If the Commander ever wants to leave the service, he has a calling as a diplomat.
Prendable graciously dismisses us all, obviously feeling the tension growing to a boiling point. I rise with everyone else, but move just slow enough to make sure that I’ll be taking the lift with Briggs and Richards instead of the cheerful bunch I traveled with earlier.
As we all head towards the lift, my dreams of a peaceful ride are squandered as Richards peels off toward the current officer manning bridge communications.
Hale is kind enough to insist that the rest of us all squeeze into the lift together. Being that this used to be a Hycain ship and Hycains tend to be inhumanly tall and slender, we have ample headroom yet not quite enough around us. I regret my decision instantly when I force myself in the small space allotted. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic, the cockpit of a fighter plane is about as spacious as a coffin, but having my ass pressed up against Hale’s excessive belly is revolting.
The ride should take just under a minute to drop Hale and Darden off. I close my eyes and hope the lift tracks were maintained recently enough to smooth out any bumps.