A Welcome AwakeningMature

Vincent woke, his eyes opened with effort. He blinked several times at the harsh whiteness of the room, and then turned to see that the entire wall to his right was a video membrane showing the space just beyond the hull plating. Silence filled the room, other than the humming of the engines, which after several months is like the beating of ones heart or the sound of ones breathing, it disappears into monotony. He sat up in the bed, examined the intravenous needles hanging from his arm and hand. He noticed quite promptly that his head had been shaved and that there was a bandage over a large area of it. A numb pain pumped through his body. Time passed in this solitude, it seemed like several hours before a nurse checked on him and brought some food. He ate it quickly, ignoring the nurse’s advice to do otherwise. A few more hours past in silence and contemplation until the door hissed open for the second time of the day.
    “I heard you were awake.” Said Enora as she walked into the hospital room in civilian clothing.
    “Apparently I am.” Vincent replied, sitting up as best he could. “How can I help you Major Vance?”
    “Please, we’re not on duty, call me Enora.” she replied.
    “Alright... Enora.” Vincent said awkwardly.
    She walked over to the bed and sat down beside him, pushing back a lock of her hair that fell as she sat. She smiled at him, looking him over in the awkward silence. “Well they told me you were pretty banged up, didn’t think it was this bad.”
    “Yeah, it was pretty rough, although I don’t remember much of it.” Vincent said, relaxing a little more.
    “Well Optics got it all recorded, so you can watch it when you’re out of here. I think I’m going to use it to teach a class on evasive maneuvers, it’s quite impressive. I don’t think I’ve seen piloting like that since Dizzy navigated the debris of that carrier a year back.”
    Vincent laughed. “I actually heard about that the first day I met the squadron. We were in the shuttle from Jericho station to the Zerachiel and the first story about Delia that Huedenver told Marcus and I was that one. Now that is impressive flying.”
    Enora laughed, “Don’t downplay what you just accomplished, wait ‘till you see the footage.”
    Vincent cocked an eyebrow “I guess you’ve already seen it?”
    Enora smiled, put up both of her hands and extended her fingers, “More times than I can count on both my hands.”
    “I guess it’s pretty entertaining.”
    “More than you’d think.” She replied, observing the room. “I wanted to get to know you and Marcus a little better since you’re the new guys. I stopped by to see both of you earlier today but you were both still under, I’m not sure what they gave you guys but it must be some powerful stuff.”
    “I’m not sure either but I can assure you that it wasn’t comfortable. I hate being put under.”
    Enora got up and walked toward the optic wall. “I’m the same way I think, it’s an assault on the control you have on your body. I can’t stand that either. There are only two circumstances in which I don’t mind my body being out of my control. One is when I’m in a cockpit pulling g’s and the other isn’t quite appropriate to talk about” She said with a rye smile.
    Vincent laughed and then held his side in pain “Ooh, maybe laughing isn’t the best thing, ribs really hurt.”
    “Well with what happened when you destroyed that mine I wouldn’t expect you to be alive. Marcus and you are very lucky you got out of that spin fast enough not to get brain damage. That would have been a shame.”
    “It always is.” Vincent quipped
    There was a moment of silence as they both looked out at the stars. Enora watched them flicker as she spoke, “I’m off for three days. You’re supposed to be working right now but you’ll probably be in here for the next few days. I’ll try to come by when I can. I know how it is to be alone. With no one here that you know other than Marcus who’s also bed ridden, I’ll try and keep you company.”
    “I really appreciate that but you don’t have to. Solitude is no stranger to me.”
    She turned to him and looked into his green eyes, “Solitude is no friend to you either Vincent, don’t refuse an honest girl.”
    Vincent stared into her blue eyes, her dark hair pinned in a knot behind her head, her bangs tucked behind her ears. He felt his face swell, turn red and watched her smile grow. He broke eye contact and took a deep breath that was filled with pain from his swollen muscles. “No, you’re right. I shouldn’t refuse your hospitality. Come by whenever you can, I appreciate it.”
    Both of them shot their glance at the door as Commander Schindler walked into the room. “Room!” Enora shouted, snapping to attention.
    “Relax Major you’re off duty, and this soldier can’t even stand.” he said, his stern gaze bombarding Vincent. “I want you to know that what you did was rash, stupid and full of bravado. But... we’re alive. You’re being recommended for a meritorious action medal. These don’t come often, and especially not to someone who just transferred into my wing from the Corps.” Maxwell shifted slightly, as if refraining from saying something that was on the tip of his tongue. He paused for a moment before continuing. “Who knows how much damage that mine could have done to the bridge. Thank you for not letting us find out. You live up to your reputation.”
    “Thank you very much sir. I hope that Marcus is also getting a medal, without him my flying wouldn’t have amounted to anything.”
    Maxwell Schindler looked at Vincent in a moment of silence and then broke it with his low voice. “I respect men of equality, and don’t worry, Lieutenant Valderhann will be recommended for a meritorious medal as well.” He stepped back and turned to Enora. “Major Vance” He said, bowing in her direction. “I’m sorry for interrupting. Have a nice day.” Schindler turned and left the room.
    Enora turned to Vincent, “A medal! Well personally I think you deserve it, and I hope you get it. It would be a nice addition to the honors of our squadron.” She smiled and turned to the door. “I might come back later tonight, but I have a few things I have to get to before everything closes for the day.”
    “Of course, do what you have to, I’m fine on my own.” Vincent said as he smiled.
    Enora cocked her head to the side. “Haven’t we already gone over this?”
    Vincent rolled his eyes in mock anger, “Yeah yeah, solitude is not my friend.”
    “Good, I’ll see you later.” She said, putting her hand on his for a short moment before turning about and leaving the room.
    Vincent took another painful deep breath, thought over the moment that just passed, and then closed his eyes and quickly slipped into a shallow sleep.
    Vincent woke up and suddenly rose to a sitting position, sweat rolling down his face, bare shoulders and chest. His eyes scanned the room frantically. “Where... ”
    Enora put her hands on his shoulders and hushed him, laying him back onto the bed. “Don’t worry, it’s just a bad dream. I’m here.”
    Vincent breathed in short sharp strokes, his eyes still wondered the room in disorientation. “Ugh, where am I...” He shook his head.  “... what time is it?”
    “It’s about three in the morning.” Enora said, “A nurse came in as I was leaving mentioning you had a bad fever...” She took a face cloth from a tray nearby and wiped his forehead. “... I couldn’t will myself to leave.”
    Vincent’s breathing slowed, his eyes closed and he soon fell back to sleep for what felt like only a few moments. The hum of the machinery in his nondescript dream pulled him into wakefulness as he recognized the sound as that of the monitoring systems near his bed. The blur of reality began to focus as he noticed Enora asleep on a bedside chair.
    Enora shifted in the chair, waking from the uncomfortable position.
    Vincent saw her eyes open slightly before locking on to his. “Good morning.” He said.
    She smiled, “Good morning. I hope that taking the liberty to stay with you doesn’t make you uncomfortable.”
    “It’s actually the other way around.” Vincent replied, “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this comfortable.”
    “I hope...” She hesitated, “... that this won’t interfere with our work either.” There was a silence before she continued. “I’ve never done this before.” An awkward silence sparked before she continued. “I’ve never cared this way before, for someone. You know what I mean right?” She said, raising her head.
    Vincent turned over to lay on his back, minding the intravenous tubes still hanging from his arm. “I do. I’ve never really felt any urge or desire to find someone, but I’d say that’s changing.” he said, looking at the ceiling of the room.
    Enora looked into his eyes. “I don’t know what it is about you Vincent, sorry for being so forward but you’re always on my mind. I can’t seem to shake you, and I don’t even really know who you are.”
    Vincent rolled over to face her. “Well that can change. Why don’t you ask me some questions, I’ll tell you anything you want to know about me.”
    Enora laughed, “That’s not the point. I’m not supposed to favor any person on my team.”
    “I find that the things you’re not supposed to do are sometimes the best thing to do.” Vincent remarked.
    “Like chasing a mine three meters above the hull?” she said.
    Vincent smiled “Yeah.”
    Enora started, “With that philosophy I can see how you always get yourself in trouble.”
    “Where’d you get an idea like that anyway?” He said with a smirk.
    Vincent’s eyes rolled. “Then it would be true if you consider that he’s the one who always gets me into trouble.”
    Enora laughed. “So how do you like the Zerachiel so far anyway?”
    “Well, it’s a carrier. I don’t like carrier ships all that much, they tend to be cold.”
    “Yeah, sometimes enough to freeze water on the more open decks like the concourse.” Enora said.
    “Oh I don’t only mean temperature cold. Carriers are usually so big that you never really get to know that many people other than your squad and those who live near you, if those two demographics aren’t already the same. So when you walk around people are cold. You take a lift from one place to the other and you might be elbow to elbow with someone but they’d never speak a word unless they had an occupational necessity to do so.” There was a moment of silence before Vincent started again, “So, tell me about yourself, outside of the ‘official’ stuff I already know.”
    “Well, what do you want to know?”
    “Everything, start from the top. Give me the brief life history of Enora Vance.”
    Enora laughed again, “Ok. Well, let’s see. I was born on a gas farming station around Hoshima, an oustkirts gas giant in the Osymous system. You’ve been there apparently.”
    Vincent laughed. “So you’ve read my profile.”
    “It’s my job to know my pilots.”
    “I’m sure your job motivated you to remember such a small detail. Anyway, go on.”
    “Alright. My first flying lessons were on freight shuttles. I’d take ore pods from unmanned gas miners and delivery them to the refineries.”
    Vincent’s brow furrowed.
    “What?” Enora asked.
    “Well, I always wondered why they don’t just build suspended piping systems to delivery the raw material to the refineries.”
    “Well they do.” Enora replied. “In certain cases, but our project was not the richest and other than the death tole, using pilots is cheaper.”
    “Ah, that explains it. Go on.”
    “Yeah, stop interrupting already!” Enora said jokingly. “Ok, so from there I guess I could fast forward to the rebellion. The war against Ehud sympathizers had been going on for at least a century just a system away from Osymous. Eventually it spilled over and we started fighting. They asked us to join them against the Tribunal, we declined and so they started attacking our transports that left toward the inner systems with refined ore. I flew modified Phalanx civilian class ships, they had small caliber caseless machine guns mounted onto the wings. They flew like a falling rock, even in space. But after a while you’d get the hang of it. I defended those transport ships for a few years before the Ehud actually showed up. Once that happened it was hopeless. They started anticipating our raiding parties and decimated our fighter squadrons. They did things that made absolutely no sense, that were basically impossible. Things that would take amazing knowledge of plans and trajectory, so we obviously thought we had a mole. They did things like jump in system just as a transport was winding up to jump out and pummeled it until it drifted through the trans-light barrier. That’s not so hard, but what’s almost impossible is that they’d jump to the exact place it would fall out of warp. Since the transports were damaged and sometimes weighed less than plotted because of destroyed or jettisoned cargo, no one should be able to tell when they would fall out of warp. But the Ehud managed to do it. It’s like they knew the future. Anyway, to make a long story short. The Tribunal came in with a few warships, we thought they were going to help us defend the mines but instead they gave us an ultimatum: Stay here and die or come with us and live. So those who agreed evacuated the mines and left with the warships that same week. The rest is basically history.”
    “That’s pretty impressive storytelling Enora. I really enjoyed that, and yes, I have been to that system.” Vincent said, his face becoming serious. “There wasn’t much left of it, but I was there once.”
    Enora looked into his eyes. “It’s ok, my family left with me, no one I knew well stayed behind.”
    “Still.” Vincent said. “It was home once, and I know a lot about losing homes.”
    “Ok, then it’s your turn. Tell me about the life and times of Vincent Alastair.”
    Vincent smiled. “Alright, my turn.” He put his elbow out and propped his head upright on his palm. “I’m not sure where I was born, it’s not even in my records. All I know, and I do remember this very slightly, is that my parents were killed by Ehud on whatever planet I was from. They took me and I was a prisoner for at least a year. I have the mark to prove that.” Vincent looked over his left shoulder. “You must have seen it.”
    Enora nodded. “The brand on your shoulder blade, I’ve seen it.”
    “So eventually I was rescued by the Tribunal, who destroyed the ship I was held on and saved me, along with other children and captives that were on this particular vessel. At this point I was introduced into the military. They trained me as a pilot, as you know.”
    Enora smiled “Yeah but you weren’t always a pilot, tell me how you got into the corps.”
    “It’s an interesting story actually. I was flying one of my new missions as a second lieutenant. Fleet command got a distress signal from a major outpost just off the contested zone. We made a deployed jump using the Armitage gate in the Colossus system and didn’t expect what we ran into. When we came out we were in the middle the largest battle I’ve ever seen. Just as we cleared the gate a burning Tribunal carrier slammed into it, cutting off the backup we were in the process of calling.”
    “Wait, you were at the Vergus Gate battle?”
    “Yes, not many people know it by name, the Tribunal keeps a tight cap on their major losses. Their propaganda chalked up the ships lost to several small battles and some victories instead of to one major loss.”
    “Yeah, I read the real reports and the published ones. Pays to have a friend in Intelligence. Anyway, go on.”
    “I was piloting a one seater, it’s nickname is the deathcan. You know what I’m talking about?”
    Enora laughed, “Yeah, that’s the H-60 Alcyone. Those things are fun.”
    “Fun to fly in, not fun to fight in. One burst with shields down and you’re swiss cheese. Anyway, the sympathizing government in this sector was the Orate. They broke off from the Tribunal only about ten years before this battle took place, it didn’t take them much time to build the fleet they had there in Vergus. An Orate fighter was on the tail of this Tribunal T-71 Archer, so I came up behind the Orate ship and started pummeling it to let the Archer free. Unfortunately the Orate fighter had a death wish and didn’t give a crap about the holes I was putting in his fuselage. He really wanted that Archer down. I followed the both of them through hell and back, we cut through debris at six times port maximum and pulled through railgun arms as they were charging the whole bit. This Archer was flying through the most dangerous things he could think of to shake the fighter but this Orate pilot was good. Eventually we ended up pulling into high orbit around Chilindral, Vergus’s capital planet. We pulled further into the orbit until all three of us got into a lot of trouble. A frigate came crashing down on top of us, this huge flaming ship got caught in the crossfire and drifted into Chilindral’s gravitational field. By the time we all noticed it the thing was already breaking into pieces. So I’m thinking I’ve got my chance and I’ll get the Orate bastard when he pulls away. He never pulled away, we went deeper into the atmosphere and eventually got peppered by micro meteorites that used to be part of the Frigate. All three of us went down over the northern hemisphere of the planet. The Orate fighter finally disengaged and tried to get out of the debris field that was falling on top of us. I’m not sure if he made it. But the Archer was badly damaged and as my hull started getting way too warm from re-entry the back quarter of my fighter was shaved off by debris. His ship must have seen it happen because he pulled up underneath me, flipped over and docked to my emergency hatch. Of course he couldn’t hold up the both of us and we continued to fall at fatal velocity. So I unbuckled and jumped through to his ship. The pilot was dead, but the gunner had his headset and transferred control to his console. He was bleeding pretty bad from a head injury. He couldn’t walk so I carried him to the escape pods and we punched out of the archer. We landed in a field and got away from the crash site, we looked for some water and eventually found a decent place to camp out until I could tend properly to his wounds. We talked and got to know each other. His name was Marcus Valderhann.” Vincent smiled.
    “Marcus? That’s how you two met?”
    “Yeah, I saved his sorry ass from burning up in Chilindarl’s atmosphere and the best he can do to repay me is get me in shit every five minutes.” Vincent said mockingly.
    “Technically he saved you.”
    Vincent smiled. “I could have jumped into an escape pod and left his crippled ass on the Archer to burn on re-entry.”
    “That’s the most vial thing I’ve ever heard you say. You’re hereby no longer allowed to make comments like that.” Enora said with a smile across her face.
    Vincent laughed “Oh so that’s how it’s going to be?”
    Enora poked him, “Yes, that’s how it’s going to be. So, you still haven’t told me about how you got into the Corps.”
    “That’s what I was getting to.”
    “I’m sure.” Enora said, “Ok, go on.”
    “Well, we were finally picked up by a group of six soldiers. They came to see what fell from the sky and found Marcus and I on their way. They nearly shot us before we could convince them we weren’t Ehud or Orate. Now that we had more hands, we went back to the crash site and grabbed all the consumables from the pods. Marcus and I ended up fighting with them for about a week before their Sergeant got fataly wounded. We were trying to make our way back to battalion. They were lost because their dropship crashed and killed the rest of their squad and of course Marcus and I were lost because we weren’t even supposed to be there. We ran into some Orate soldiers that were camped in a small farming village near a river. We ended up taking the village but like I said, the Sergeant got hit. His right arm was basically amputated by the shot and his lung was collapsed. He was bleeding very badly, we bandaged him up as best we could but knew he wouldn’t make it. We couldn’t do much else so we got him as drunk as we could from the rations we found in the village and Buckley, the medic, gave him three stim pills. So that’s basically that.”
    “Stim pills?” Enora asked.
    “Stimulation pills, it’s basically a neural stimulant coupled with a steroid agent that maximizes stamina. I guess you don’t know how bad three is. Well to give you an idea, one of them lasts full strength for about six hours. Normally they do three things. They keep you alert, keep you from feeling hungry and kill pain. But they’re not designed to be friendly to your body, so you pop one before you go on a mission and usually people who take more than one a day get withdrawal symptoms and dependencies that render you useless. More than one in an hour will kill you very quickly.”
    “Oh. So three is bad.” Enora said.
    “Yeah, he died pretty quick, but painless.”
    “So what happened after that?”
    “Well after the Sergeant died I was the one who took the initiative to get us moving again. We found a downed dropship so we policed the consumables and went on our way, by now Marcus’s head was fine and we were doing pretty good time, but we were still lost. We fought a bit more with Orate on our way and eventually ran into another squad. We linked up and I was still the highest ranking officer but this time we had a radio. We got in touch with Battalion and since we were all in good shape they made us poke around a bit before coming in. That poking around cost us eight KIA’s and three casualties of which Marcus was one. He had just pulled a wounded man out of a firefight and into a building when a grenade rolled in after him. He went prone on top of the wounded soldier and took the blast. Marcus walked away with badly ripped up shoulders and part of his helmet in his skull. The wounded soldier never walked away at all. That’s basically what ended our mission. We found what Battalion was looking for because they gave us an extraction point about a mile away from the part of the city that we were engaged in and we got picked up that same night. After that I was stuck planetside for at least eight months in which I continued to work as a squad leader. Eventually the in system fighting died down and the Tribunal pushed the Orate back just enough to send in a ship to pick all the ground troops up. Turns out there wasn’t all that much of us down on Chilindral. I’m not sure how many were sent to that planet but only a thousand or so made it off. Once I got back on a Tribunal ship I was commended and was recognized as having equal rank in both the Corps and the Fleet. They sent me on a few more Corps missions before we left the system, leaving it to the Orate. From there I spent the next year in the Corps until I got on Jericho Station. I was on leave when I received the memo that Marcus and I had been assigned to a fighter squadron on the Zerachiel. And well, you know the rest.”
    Enora put her hand on his cheek, “I sure do.”

The End

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