Ismaly was almost asleep when the high pitch of capacitors charging caught her attention. Her Hornet's simulated destruction had finally timed out. She sighed angrily and submitted to the indoctrination of the UEE Navy and followed procedure.
"Scipio this is Hound Delta one. Requesting further orders, over."
She waited, impatiently until finally her comms crackled.
"Scipio, acknowledged. Make way at best speed to bay zero one, heading for initial approach zero zero seven eight, over."
"Hound Delta one, over and out."
Ismaly slammed the throttle forward and accelerated toward the Scipio as her wingmen's craft also began to re-initialize.
Her eyes locked on to another Hornet who's running lights slanted oddly in the distance. It was the Hornet of veteran pilot Sarah "Flack" Deans, who hadn't made it all the way to the Scipio yet, under an awkward vector due to damaged thrusters. She rolled her eyes, still painfully regretful that she hadn't come out of the dogfight on top. She wanted to log on to the Shepherd Dogs channel and give her piece to Flack, but decided it would be best to hold her tongue, for now.
On the flight deck, Mathew waited patiently as the crowbar continued to grind into the alloys of the cockpit's canpopy. A knocking came, and he turned to see the technician leaning forward to speak.
"Try it now."
Mathew engaged battery power and was met with the same flashing light, but decided to try the lever regardless. He pulled it, and the canopy jerked forward but stopped, shuddered and moved a few more inches. Mathew sat up and grabbed on to the lip of the canopy, pushing it forward with every ounce of strength he could muster. The technician too, was heaving against it, using the ladder for leverage as much as he could. The canopy slowly crept forward, until finally the uni-rail system passed the damaged portion of the frame and accelerated forward at normal speed, leaving both Mathew and the technician to fall forward with its motion.
Mathew grunted, and grasped the sealed collar of his helmet, tearing the release clip and twisting the helmet off the seal ring. He sucked in the familiar air of the Scipio's flight deck, saturated with the smell of industrial grease, oil and fuel. It was glorious compared to the cramped confines of the Hornet's cockpit, re-using his own breath through the rebreather of his flight suit.
"You're welcome." said the Technician.
"Hey, wait." Mathew grasped his arm. "I'm sorry. I was a bit irritable in there."
"My name's Mathew." he extended his hand.
"Jessie." said the technician, grasping Mathew's outstreached hand with a firm grip.
"Thanks Jessie, I appreciate your help."
"You'd be the first pilot to say that Mathew."
"Well, I'd hope that mentality changes."
"As would I." said Jessie, as he continued down the boarding ladder to the flight deck below.
Mathew was disembarking when he saw another hornet slip into the Scipio's belly. A ground guide came forward to escort it to a parking space, but the Hornet continued beyond his glowing batons. It coasted skillfully next to an open bay and then yawed, translated downward and backed up before lowering gear and touching down. Mathew frowned, and continued down the ladder. By the time he got to the tarmac below, the other hornet's canopy had opened and the pilot stood up in the cockpit. The helmet came off, revealing tumbling waves of golden hair.
Mathew smirked, understanding now why the ground guide had been ignored. The Princess didn't take orders from lowly none comissioned members of the UEE Navy. His smirk disappeared when he turned to see none other than Major Marmossa standing before him, his scared face grimacing unintentionally. The combat veteran stood aside, revealing that some of the senior staff were making their way across the flight deck. Walking toward him, Mathew saw the Executive First Officer Commander Geoffrey Williams; the Engineering Officer Lt. Commander Lesley Jones; the Traffic Officer Major Lillian Jasper and the ship's Captain, Michael James Anderson.
A lump grew in Mathews throat until it became so heavy it dropped like a stone into his gut as he swallowed dryly.
"Mister Dionne." exclamed Commander Williams.
Mathew snapped to attention. "Sir." he said, shifting the helmet onto his left hip to free up his right hand so that it could deliver a crisp salute.
"At ease." Williams continued.
By now, the clag had reached him, and he was surrounded by the thickest brass available on the Scipio.
The Captain took in a deep breath, and even over Ismaly's engines winding down, Mathew could hear the raspness in his voice. "Tell me, Mister Dionne. Did you take into account any consideration of your own wellbeing, or that of UEE property before engaging in that reckless maneuver?"
The Captain's voice was like sandpaper, both in sound and texture, as though it were grinding away at his very being. "Sir, I ... "
"We don't want excuses Lieutenant." Williams interjected. "We want the truth."
Mathew stopped and while holding his breath, he reflected on those words.
"Generally ... " said Lt. Commander Jones. "The first thing to come to mind is the truth. Focus on that."
Mathew exhailed, as though giving up a great burden. "Not for a second." He said, a sombre expression dominating the landscape of his face.
The Captain smiled. "There are few men like you still around Mathew Dionne, and it's a true pity, because we need as many of your caliber as we can get."
Major Jasper stood forward. "You pulled off some vector translations out there that I've never seen a Hornet perform before. You should be proud."
"Nevertheless." said Lt. Commander Jones, "You did do damage to a brand new Hornet."
"I think that's partially forgiveable." said the Captain, "Considering you were willing to sacrafice everything for the wellbeing of your squadmate. Nonetheless, I'm going to have to ask you to refrain from using such valor again. Save it, because soon we won't be firing training rounds; we'll be taking real fire, and people will die. Some too, however, will rise to the occasion and prove to be true men of honor, bravery and virtue. I need you to hold on to that talent of yours Lieutenant."
Mathew cocked his head. " That's twice now that you've mistaken my rank. With all do respect Sirs, and Ma'am; I'm not yet the rank of Lieutenant."
"I'd beg to differ." Said the Captain, handing out the insignia of Lieutenant to Mathew; its golden bars resting in the palm of his open hand. "You've proven beyond all expectation that you are willing to sacrifice everything for the good of your men and the UEE. I see fit for you to lead Wolf Bravo as flight leader, and to do so I hereby promote you to the rank of Lieutenant, with the expectation that you shall carry out all duties and responsibilities belonging to this rank, with utmost competence and keeping at heart the virtues and morals of the United Earth Empire."
Mathew took the Captains outstretched hand, the insignia within, as was customary when pledging oath, and stood tall. "I shall, to the best of my abilities, carry out the duties and responsibilities bestowed upon me in keeping at heart the virtues and morals of the United Earth Empire and above all else, the lawful command of the Scipio's Captain."
Captain Anderson sighed. "Unfortunately Lieutenant, you did cause significant damage to your hornet, and I am not in a position of power to subvert the law which I am under oath to uphold. That being said, I hereby charge you the monetary value equal to that which will be bonus in relation to your new station and responsibility for the next two installments of pay, meaning you will not get Lieutenants pay until that time. Is that understood?"
"Sir, yes it is."
"Very well." The Captain turned to his entourage. "Shall we?" He said, motioning toward the control center, and the lift beyond, that would return them to the bridge.
The clag turned and walked away. Closely behind them Major Marmossa followed, turning back briefly, with his blank stare that made chills run down Mathew's spine.