Sky in the Stars, Part 16

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Skylar continues on her life at Citadel Academy

12 August 2932

Citadel Military Academy Station

Sector 4, Sigma 5 Space

 

                Skylar sat in the cockpit of an Avenger spacecraft, flying above a vast red planet. She was taking deep breaths through her helmet. Space… she was there again. It was why she spent hours at the fitness center every night, exhausting herself so she would pass out the moment she laid on her bed, just so she wouldn’t have to bear laying down in a dark room. The sooner she was dreaming, the better. But being in the cockpit of a ship is how she nearly died the first time, at least now she had some back up. She looked to her left and right. Two other Avengers flew aside her.

               A voice called on her communicator, “White Shard Squadron. This is Command. Contacts sighted at vector 045 from your position. Heading 230 from your position. Intercept and engage.” It wouldn’t take long for the Avengers to catch up to their targeted enemies, especially at the speed they flew.

               “Shard One, roger. White Shard, winter formation.” Skylar said.

               “Shard Two, roger. Taking position 2.” Said another pilot, a young man.

               Another man chimed in, “Shard Three, roger. Taking position 3.” The two other Avengers backed away from Skylar’s ship, and formed a distant V-formation. Skylar flipped down her visor, bringing up a more detailed HUD than the ship’s instruments provided. With Skylar in lead, a few minutes passed with nothing on radar. Then came six planes, both in tight V-formations. The HUD downloaded information to display, showing they were a squadron of well-armed Hornets.

               “This is Shard One.” Skylar said over her comm, “Unidentified spacecraft. You are entering restricted airspace. Turn back or you will be shot down.” There was nothing but silence. “I repeat, this is Shard One. You are entering restricted airspace. Turn back or you will be shot down.” Skylar snorted a breath as there was no reply.

               Command called to her communicator, “Clear to engage, White Shard Squadron. Keep them away from the station.”

               Skylar nodded, taking full grip of her controls, “Shard One, engaging.”

               “We got this! Two for each of us.” said Shard Two.

               “Shard Three.” Skylar called. “Bank left and take the far ones. Break them apart. Shard Two, Cobra the lead formation. Weapons hot.”

               Both Shard pilot answered, “Copy. Engaging.”

               Skylar flipped the master arms switch and pushed her throttle. She pushed herself back into her seat and turned a hard right… then to the left.  She positioned herself behind the front squadron as the two Shard pilots broke up the others. Unfortunately, the Hornets pushed their thrusters, pushing forward and turning back around for combat. Skylar banked again, trying to keep one of them in her sights. Her targeting system made a lock, signaling with a long beeping noise.

               “Fox 2.” Skylar said, firing a short-ranged missile from her wing.  She then took another target and fired another. “Fox 2.” Her targets tried to escape but suffered severe damage and pulled away from the battle.

               “Splash 1.” Said Shard Two.

               “Confirmed. Bandits down.” Command said.

               Skylar’s HUD flashed a red warning sign as an enemy had a lock on her ship.  Skylar pulled back hard on the joystick, jerking the spacecraft into a climb. She deployed flares before the G-force nearly made her black out.

               “Fox 2!” Shard Two said.

               “Fox 2!” Shard Three said.

               Skylar only felt the rumble of two explosions before the lock on her ship vanished.

               “Splash 1!” Shard Two said.

               Another Hornet made its way for Skylar, unleashing a barrage of cannon fire.  

               “Shit.” The rounds tore up her shields and into her hull.

               Shard Two swooped around and hunted for Skylar’s enemy. “Fox 1. Fox 2!” Shard Two cried out. The hornet banked out, deploying flares and evading Shard Two’s fire. “Goddamnit!” He shouted. “Guns. Guns. Guns!”  Shard Two used the massive frontal cannon on the Avenger and attacked the Hornet. Despite deterring the enemy, Shard Two took fire from behind. His engines were disabled and was left only to stabilize himself with his thrusters.  “Fuck!”

               “Fox 3.” Shard Three said. A missile came and finished off another Hornet in a glorious explosion. “Splash 1!”  

               Skylar looked at her radar, spotting Shard Three and several approaching enemies. “Shard Three, watch your six!”

               “Huh?” Shard Three questioned before shouting, “Oh come o---“ The radio went silent.

               Skylar pushed her ship as fast as it could. There were still too many enemies to take on herself.  Instead she turned tail and tried to fly through a small asteroid field.  The Hornets gave chase to the damaged Avenger, firing when they thought they had the chance. Skylar’s ship suffered more damages as bullets and lasers grazed her ship, whittling its defenses down further. There was another lock-on. Skylar deployed flares after turning around another floating rock. She avoided the attack but not before being locked on again.

“Fuck off!” A hornet flanked her and fired a missile from close range, taking out her engines and leaving her to fly forward with what momentum she had. Closer and closer she drew to an asteroid. Her instruments showed the Hornets back off as her ship plummeted toward the rock.  Out of reflex, Skylar put her hands before her face as the ship collided with the asteroid.  But there was no explosion. Her cockpit remained intact. But all was black. All that Skylar could see were three red words.

YOU ARE DEAD.

The cockpit opened up. Skylar sighed as she looked around and found herself in the simulation chamber, a large open area with mock cockpits specifically for dogfighting purposes. Outside of her cockpit stood her instructor, Cabral. He had an amused grin on his face.

“Not bad, Skylar. ‘Cept for the dying part.” Cabral said, crossing his arms. Skylar sighed and rested her head back. He extended his hand to help Skylar from her seat, “Third time’s a charm… maybe we’ll set you up with less… incompetent squad members.” He said, peering at the other pilots who accompanied her. One was Jared, the bully that harassed her before, and another young cadet who she had never met before. “You know what you’re doing. That’s what’s important.”

“How much longer ‘til we’re done with this?” Skylar asked.

Cabral turned on his heel and walked away, “Not until you leave without a scratch on your ship.”

~              

                                          

30 November 2932

Citadel Military Academy Station

Sector 4, Sigma 5 Space

 

Back in the Citadel Academy, the Chairman arrived in Lieutenant Cabral’s office. The room was just as simplistic and plane as most of the student dormitories. White walls, glossy furniture, and a desk with little more than a holo-display. Cabra had been busy typing away a report until the Chairman entered, wearing his usual suit.

“Lieutenant.” The Chairman called, folding his hands behind his back.

Cabral looked up, his brows raising in curiosity. “What can I do for you?”

“Just routine check up on Skylar.  How is she holding up?”

Cabral’s chair squeaked as he leaned back. “It’s been months, Chairman. You don’t normally hold interest in someone this long.”

The Chair relaxed his hands as he approached the desk a little closer. “I’ll tell you a little something, Lieutenant. Skylar Connor showed up on Alpha Station with no history, no records, and a falsified ID.”

Cabral’s brows furrowed. “You mean…”

The Chairman continued. “We don’t know where she came from. Who she works for… if she is working for someone. Now, her behavior and work ethic has demonstrated well enough that she’s no insurgent trying to dismantle Gray Hunter. One of our own, Lukas Finley created an ID for her. She’s followed all rules, obeyed every command and has done an exemplary job for us, as you’ve heard.” Cabral nodded in agreement. “Right now, I’m not concerned as to her origins, more so her journey. How is she doing in school?”

Cabral typed a few things into his computer, bringing up a list of charts before he turned the screen to the Chairman. “A flawless record for the most part. Struggles a bit in math, but her fitness stats match some of our top males. And her engineering skills are surprisingly fine-tuned. She knows her way around a ship, might make a good mechanic or a salvage technician one day. If anything, the kid’s got spunk.”

“Spunk?” The Chairman questioned.

“You know...confidence, audacity…”

“Ah…” The Chairman nodded. “...well, I don’t know about any of those professions. The council has other plans.”

Cabral leaned forward in his chair, his elbows resting on his desk. “The council is involved in this? Why?”

The Chairman shrugged, turning back to pace around the room. Eventually he found himself staring out the virtual window. “Hard to tell… even I’m kept out of the dark in things. But I can only assume it’s Skylar’s lack of records and her ability to get things done.”

Cabral stood up from his desk. “You’re acting like she might end up…” The Chairman met eyes with Cabral. “...she’s only a kid, Chairman!”

“It’s not my call.” The Chairman relaxed his shoulders.

“I thought she was going to work for Captain Snow.”

The Chairman returned to Cabral’s desk. “She will. But she may be called upon. Believe me when I say, I care for her safety as much as you.”

Cabral frowned. “Well… she still has a way to go before I can consider her a graduate.”

The Chairman smiled and nodded before heading to the door. “Keep me posted, Lieutenant. They are interested.” With that, the Chairman left.

    That night, Skylar was in the Academy’s gun range, alone with nothing but a gun at her side. She fired a pistol repeatedly at a target far down the lane. Her safety glasses could not mask the vicious focus in her eyes. She hadn’t even heard the door open as a young tan woman entered in student uniform. She watched Skylar with her slanted blue eyes. Her fine, wavy, chocolate-colored hair fell down to her mid-back. She was shorter than Skylar, but with an hourglass build. Though she was sure Skylar couldn’t hear her, she still approached quietly. She waited until Skylar paused for a shot before calling out to her.

“Hey Skylar.” The woman smiled.

Skylar looked to her right seeing the familiar face. She only nodded in acknowledgement, “Lacey.”

Lacey put in some ear plugs and hopped on the counter in Skylar’s box. “Thought you’d be in the simulation room or something. You okay? I don’t see you here often.”

Skylar sighed, masking her annoyance. “I don't tell people I come here. If I do, people either ask questions or decide to join me.  I prefer to be alone here. This is where I go when I need to clear my head.”

Cock. Bang! Bang! Bang!

Skylar relaxed her posture and lowered the gun. She reached up with her left hand and adjusted her goggles and ear plugs. She then put both hands back on the pistol. She enjoyed the ease of the weapon. It was easy to load, and shoot… and as she cocked the gun she felt a certain calmness take over. She fired again, letting out a light sigh.

Lacey tilted her head. “Clear your mind? With this noise?”

Skylar shrugged. “The sound of the gun doesn't bother me. It drowns out thoughts in my head that I want to ignore. It makes room for reason... it's almost ...mechanical. You walk in. Say hello to the quartermaster. You tell him what you want to do today, what kind of gun you want to shoot and how much ammo you want. He gives it to you—no questions asked, no conversation. You go to the room next door. Pick a lane. Put on your safety gear. Put up your target and press the button on the wall to have the target move back in your lane. If you want the target 30 feet away, it will be 30 feet away. If you want it 50 feet away, it will be 50 feet away.” Skylar’s gaze turned to the lane again, Lacey’s eyes followed with her.

    Skylar continued. “If you load a gun,”  She proceeded to reload her pistol. “it will have ammo. If you cock a gun,” She pulled back the slide, “you can then pull the trigger. If you pull the trigger,” Skylar fired down range. “you will shoot the gun.” She lowered the pistol. “The metal is cold. After shooting, the metal will be hot, and if you touch it, it will hurt.” She placed her pistol down and stared down the lane. “Any problems in here can be fixed much more easily than problems outside. The world makes sense within this small little room. It's the best place to solve other problems once I've managed to de-stress.” Skylar smiled.

“It's simple.” Skylar said. “It's easy. Bang, bang; shoot, shoot." She handed the pistol to Lacey. "Problem solved.”

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