On the Akizuke, Walsh greeted and joked with reservists he’d trained with, but he could feel a palpable tension in the air. Most of the people on board had never seen a real battle. It was crazy, of course, but he found himself excited at the prospect of one. The seventy-year-old skipper, however, had served in one of the world’s last skirmishes before the eVoices Revolution solidified the formation of a new kind of mostly on-line government based on issues instead of physical locations in the world. The cumulative power of visionary computer hackers around the globe diverting funds from corrupt governments, and controlling satellites and drones gave birth to the powerful Earth Coalition Government, an internet voting and enforcement world order.
The old skip called his pilots together. “This may turn out to be nothing, but we need to go out there to check for a physical confirmation of what we saw. If you see the arachnoid ship, don’t do anything aggressive without specific orders. This could be a first contact with aliens, and I think you all know the significance of that. If there’s trouble, I want to make it clear that going into battle is no video game. You can’t just press reset and start again. Real people die. Injuries are real and they hurt. Now instead of you greenhorns sitting around, I’ve laid out a schedule. Alpha Division, you’ll fly recon and live manoeuvres. Beta Division, get on the simulators and, for peace in the galaxy, pretend the battles I’ve programmed into it with an arachnoid ship are real, will you? Gamma, mess hall and rest. Let’s move!”
Careful not to let his excitement show as he donned flight gear, Walsh listened to the Alpha leader’s instructions. He had a feeling he’d be keel hauled if the captain knew his secret desire to encounter the creepy alien ship dubbed “Shadowstar.” Enjoying the novelty of powering up his little four-meter-long pocket fighter, he waited in line to launch for his first real mission, wing man duty at the back of the squadron. When it was his turn, he pushed the stick and took off, gliding smoothly into position a bit behind and to the right of his charge. It was a challenge for the newly assembled formation to stick together as a unit as they covered the region of space assigned to them. Walsh didn’t have to monitor all the other planes to make sure his relative position was correct because his leader was responsible for that. However, it wasn’t easy making sudden adjustments to stick with his leader every time there was a turn or swoop. There was no sign of the spidery U.F.O. so Alpha Leader radioed back that his squadron would carry out target shooting and manoeuvres on the way back.
Walsh got the word he and his leader should fall in line behind the rest of the squadron to take their turn at blasting an asteroid in a field ahead. Beams of energy burst from the front of the ships, sending debris flying as the rays struck their targets. The pair ahead sliced into an extra-large target, splitting it beautifully. Except it wasn’t so beautiful, Walsh thought anxiously, that a huge chunk of space rock was catapulting straight towards his leader. This was not a drill anymore. He shouted a warning into his com, ready to follow a sudden swerve—but his leader was still marking his own chunk, now dangerously close if not fired upon. Horrified, Walsh saw the ship he shadowed couldn’t veer off or fire on both in time. Covering him was his job, but he didn’t have a clear shot from where he was. Making a split-second decision, Walsh shoved his stick and zipped at super speed, disintegrated the stray asteroid bomb, then flipped over and high-tailed it back to his leader. The whole thing took about ten seconds before he was back where he belonged as wingman.
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