Training Wheels

“Guard that gate with your life” came the clipped command as the main battlefleet aligned to a remote star system. New pilot Gaius Nefar had joined the ranks of professional capsuleers only days before, his eyes wide with envy as he saw the hundred-strong swarm of ships warp to places unknown, leaving him to protect a small structure sitting alone in the vastness of space. The warp gate would be a point of entry or exit to the system, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of the complex maps his computer showed him – was he meant to prevent others from entering? From exiting? What he did know was that the flight commander had given him an order, and it was his job to follow it.

Within minutes of the fleet’s departure the radio sprang to life with the harried chaos of mass battle. Commands were issued over the sounds of screaming, cheers of celebration competing with crying lamentations. Gaius didn’t know who was winning, and as much as he wanted to fly in to help edge his side to victory, he recognized that a pilot as inexperienced as he would make little difference in a fight of that size.

Gritting his teeth and trying to pick out the least sign to tell him whether his compatriots were succeeding, a flashing alarm on the radar yanked him jarringly from his concentration. “Hostile contact approaching local space” the computer reported, its gentle voice failing to provide any measure of comfort as Gaius’ heart pounded in his chest. However fared the rest of the fleet, his moment had arrived. Licking his lips between heavy, anxious breaths, he gripped the control sticks tightly as he prepared for the target’s inevitable arrival.

It was huge, dwarfing the small frigate he piloted. By the time he had processed just how suicidal he was being by following orders his fingers had already flown over the computer interface, setting his ship in the tightest possible orbit, hoping the huge battleship’s large guns couldn’t track his agile fighter. Warming up the warp disruptor and praying that each of his laden breaths wouldn’t be his last, he commanded the computer to fire at will.

Explosions rocked his tiny craft – the much larger battleship relying on missiles rather than slow-turning turrets. Clenching his jaw with every concussive jolt, ignoring the automated damage report and red warning lights, he enabled the disruptor which, if successful, would prevent his target from warping away – so long as Gaius was alive to keep the ship locked in place.

Flicking open the fleet communication channel he didn’t try to hide his fear and excitement. “I got a huge ship at the QM-O gate – he’s not going anywhere but I’m getting hammered!” Through the din of radio chatter still broadcasting from the far away engagement he thought he heard someone acknowledge his plight. Enabling his shield repair systems, he prayed it would be enough to last until someone, anyone, arrived.

“Friendly contact approaching local space” his radar alerted him, a moment of hope as missiles began tearing into his vulnerable hull. He had hardly scratched the battleship and had seconds left to live; the enemy would undoubtedly destroy his escape pod after his ship was rent asunder.

Furiously pushing his engines to their limits, trying to coax every ounce of speed and rotational velocity out of them to escape the unrelenting missile assault, he almost missed seeing the enemy shields start crashing. Heavy thuds shook the frigate, but they weren’t from missiles – a small contingent of the fleet had returned and started assaulting the battleship with high-grade artillery shells. He didn’t know if the blasts were damaging his ship further but his resolve to keep his prey from escaping intensified; now his fleetmates were relying on him to pull off what once seemed impossible to the young pilot.

Seemingly without fanfare the immense ship began to explode into the silence of open space, fires expanding along punctures in its fragile hull. In moments Gaius’ computer alerted him that no target remained to be targeted. He fell back into his chair, drenched in sweat. His tactical display glowed red with ship-wide damage and he reveled in the moment of his contribution, no matter how small, to his corporation and the battle at large.

“You did good kid,” the fleet commander praised the new pilot, surprising him. “Bravo wing, clean up any stragglers, we’re going home.”

Filled with exhilaration and adrenaline, Gaius followed the fleet back to safe territory, awed that even a novice could help take down such large prey. In that moment he knew his old life was truly over; he had achieved his childhood dream of being a corporate capsuleer, those pilots that roamed the skies in the greatest battles ever known.

He was home.

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