The hallway was busy, high ranking officers walking to and from different offices in the admin section of the ship. Mathew was sitting in his dress uniform, having been told to report to Wing Commander Lieutenant Colonel Sean Collins. He had been sitting there for nearly an hour before Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Clark, the Wing Commanders second in command, waved him in.
Mathew stood, pulled his tunic taut and proceeded into the office.
"Lieutenant Dionne. Good morning."
"Sir." Mathew saluted.
"Put your hand down Lieutenant."
"You know who I am?"
"Yes sir, you're the 2I/C of the eighty second fighter wing."
"Do you know why you're here?"
"Yes sir, if I were to hazard a guess it would be related to my collision with my wingman sir."
"You are correct." Clark sighed. "Listen, everyone knows what you did was selfless and saved a life. No one is arguing that. This is just cold business. You owe us money, so we're going to take it from you. What I'm doing here is just the paperwork and making sure you understand exactly why it is we're taking your money."
"I understand sir."
"You damaged a piece of equipment. If you had damaged it in combat, this wouldn't be happening, but unfortunately you damaged it in training and there are regulations that need to be followed. Luckily, the Captain has ordered that you are to lose only the retroactive pay you would normally get when being promoted to Lieutenant. Here's the sum on paper. This is a formal charge, it will remain on your file. If you understand and agree with the following, sign here."
Mathew took the pen and signed the digital document.
"Good, now you've got about twenty minutes to get to that parade. I'd hurry if I were you."
"Thank you sir."
"Get out of here." Clark said, a faint smile on his lips as he stood up. "It would look bad if we arrived there together."
"Yes sir, thank you again sir." Mathew saluted, turned and then left the room, briskly walking toward the lift.
On the main deck, most of the crew of the Scipio were gathered; all but the skeleton crew required to maintain the ship's systems and stations. The parade was a dull and dry rehearsal of centuries old tradition, with the command of the deck being handed up from the lowest command ranks to the top until finally Admiral Jameson held the parade and stood everyone at ease. There was a short speech, thanking and congratulating the hard work that had been done during the past week as the Scipio prepared to embark on another tour of duty. Afterward, rookie pilots who had shown promise during the week were promoted to flight leads. Most had already been given their promotions throughout the week, but this was the more formal reception of their new rank, with all of the Scipio to watch them receive it. Among the promotions was Lieutenant Harold "Hardball" Fuller, Lieutenant John "Epi" Eshyra, Lieutenant Mathew "Martyr" Dionne and Lieutenant Ismaly "Princess" Sylphrena. Once the promotions had been given out, the new Lieutenants turned to face the parade to receive applause before marching back to their positions.
Captain Anderson then took the floor. He began slow and low, but his words grew in fervor as he spoke. "Ladies and gentlemen, we are on the brink. Many don't seem to see it yet because their eyes are turned upward, toward the future and the beauty of the sky above. Some of us however, must keep our eyes on the horizon. We, here on the deck of this ship, are the realists. We must be. We must carry the burden of the truth on our shoulders so that the children of the Empire can grow up in the safety of their homes without fear of threat. You are all here today because you wanted to make a difference, and I can assure you that you came to the right place. The Scipio is a blade, she is a weapon of war, and one that has been well used. She is bloodied, and the blood that runs through her grooves and across her hilt is the blood not of her enemies, but of those who wield her. We are the life force of this vessel and when she is struck she bleeds, along with us. We do not hold the image of paradise before our eyes while oblivion lies beyond. We look directly into the darkest depths of our reality and accept that our duty is to go to those places where life is but a shimmer on the water; there for a moment, gone the next. Make no mistake, not all of you will return to Terra. When this vessel sails, it may be the last time you see freedom." He stopped speaking. The crowd was silent, waiting. When he began again, his voice was low and calm. "There is a transport docked to the Scipio. In half an hour, that transport is flying to Prime and won't be back until noon tomorrow."
The parade began to murmur.
"You don't have to go, but I would highly suggest you do. The Admiral has helped me make arrangements so that all of you have beds available at the Meyers resort."
The parade cheered ecstatically.
"Quiet!" The Captain said, his hand up.
The deck fell silent, but for a few anonymous hoora's.
"I'm paying out a lot of rope here people. Don't go hang yourselves. The transport leaves at noon, sharp. If you are not on the Scipio when it arrives, you are going to regret existing. Now, Scipio, Attention!"
The parade shot to attention in unison.
Hundreds of feet twisted on their heels, slammed down and then walked for three short steps in a crisp march before the flight deck of the Scipio erupted into cheers and laughter.