As I work on other stuff, I still enjoy writing shorts. I started, on a lark, another short series related to the game “Star Citizen”.
Here is Part 1: “Elke Fnjor”
Outside the viewport, the white glow of Kilian split the nebula in half and sent rainbow rays through the surrounding gas cloud. It was one of the most beautiful things she had seen in her short life. She closed her eyes and imagined she could feel the warmth of the rays across the millions of kilometers and through the thick shielding protecting Naval Station MacArthur. Where she grew up, on the edges of Empire space, to glimpse the wan local star through a rare break in the omnipresent cloud layer was considered an omen of good fortune. Not that it mattered much now. Home hadn’t been a fixed location in a long time.
“Elke,” Leslie hissed. “What are you doing?”
She turned to face the row of seats and her roommate.
“Just enjoying the sun, Les.”
“We see it all the time.”
“Yeah, but not in a window as big as I am.”
“Whatever. Get back over here. I don’t want to lose our place because you were daydreaming.”
Elke rolled her eyes and rejoined her roommate. Leslie and Elke were paired on day one of cadet training, and became instant friends. Both were the same age, nineteen when they enrolled, and both didn’t quite fit in with the other cadets. It was no secret the UEE attracted a certain personality, especially in women, when it came to prospective pilots. “Tomboy” would have been the phrase Elke’s grandmother used. Elke just viewed them as women acting how they thought men should act. And looked. Short hair was common. No jewelry. Not that Elke had much use for jewelry, either, but she did like her blonde hair long. Even if it meant putting it up for uniform regulations. Leslie kept her brunette mane shorter – just above the collar. Either way, neither fit in with the look of most of the women cadets.
And that went for their personalities, as well. Leslie was the reserved one – she answered the questions put to her by the instructors quietly, with shaken confidence, even though she was almost always correct. In over a year together Elke had yet to see Leslie initiate a relationship – guy or girl or other – it didn’t matter, every date Elke’s friend went on was initiated by the other person.
Elke, in contrast, was brash – even too forward, some might say. Not in the way her classmates were. Elke personally thought it was all an act for most of them. Telling sexual jokes, gruff laughter and rough physical contact. It seemed to her they were acting how they thought the men thought they should act to fit in. Elke also let her emotions sit on the surface – something frowned upon in the pilot candidate school. A pilot was expected to have complete control over his or her emotions, especially in battle.
But expectations rarely meet with reality. And the reality was, in the simulators, Elke was as cold as a comet at aphelion. Her instructors never failed to give her the highest marks in any scenario. Except the one. But that wasn’t her fault, even if they didn’t think so. Her wing leader didn’t listen to her, and they almost lost the entire wing because of it. If Elke hadn’t broke formation, against orders, when she did, the entire simulation would have been a failure. But, instead of praise, she was marked down for not being a “team player.”
It was a stupid way to grade, anyway. Everything was pass or fail – there was no middle ground.
“Flight Cadet Fin- Fan- uh…” The lieutenant behind the desk at the end of the lobby stammered.
“Fan-your, sir,” Elke offered, standing to attention. “Flight Cadet El-ka Fan-your.”
“Right. Fnjor. Jesus, what kind of a name is that?”
“Old Earth stuff, I guess, sir.”
“Okay. You and Flight Cadet Nicholson, uh, Leslie, are up next. Scan in and post at the door.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
The lieutenant glared through the glas in front of him. Elke hid her smirk. Few liked the “Old Navy” phrases, but they were technically correct, even in this century. She only said them because she knew they annoyed so many of her instructors and there was nothing they could do about it. Be an overt ass, and they’d nail you. But be a smartass and the most they could do was frown upon it.
“Shut up!” Leslie hissed.
Elke rolled her eyes again. She was doing that a lot this morning.
The door slid open.
“Go in, Cadets. And good luck.”
“Thank you, sir.”
They walked into the simulator room. It was a simple affair, four pods in front of a large screen. A man and woman, both in instructor uniforms, stood by two of the pods.
“Alright, ladies, here’s the down and dirty,” the man, a lieutenant commander, addressed them. “You passed your written and oral exams. You’ve both demonstrated competence in single-seat and crew-served combat simulations. This is your final test. It is a pass or fail test; there is no grading scale. Furthermore, you will not know the pass conditions until after the simulation is completed. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes, sir,” Elke waited for the man to acknowledge her. “What ships will we be flying?”
“You find that out when you get in the simulator. Anything else?”
“How long will the test be?”
“Until you pass or fail.”
“Alright. Get in your pods.”
Elke climbed into the nearest simulation pod. She reclined back. The woman, a lieutenant, leaned in to make sure she was properly in the harness and then gave a thumbs up. Elke responded in kind. The woman disappeared from view just before the hatch closed. She was plunged into darkness.
After an interminable pause, the disorientation of the simulation activating replaced the empty void. She exhaled and inhaled several times, as they had been taught, and blinked rapidly – to adjust to the direct neural input.
The scene before her warped with static while her brain fought the new input. Then it stabilized. She no longer felt the sensation of reclining. Instead, she stood on deck plating in a ship. Before her, to what she recognized as the bow of the ship, was a massive canopy – covering many several-meter sheets of glass – and taking up the entire bow. The view outside was of the inside of a nebula or gas giant – clouded, viscous.
“Where are we?”
She turned and saw Leslie’s avatar.
Elke grinned, “Let’s find out.”