Are there any lines that you simply will not cross?
Alarms blared inside Jack’s helmet. His primary engine was gone and he was flying on reserve power. Well, falling. He scanned his readouts. Heat shield was offline. That was great. He would be burned to a crisp in the Earth’s atmosphere. He had to think.
He checked his gauges. There wasn’t enough fuel to get him out completely, but if he diverted all his reserve power to the thrusters, just maybe he could push himself far enough out of Earth’s gravity to establish a safe orbit long enough for rescue.
The screens went black and the alarms ceased. The words DEATH IN SERVICE TO THE EMPRESS flashed across the screen in white and Jack cursed.
“Come on,” Jack groaned as he climbed out of the simulator cockpit. “It didn’t even give me a chance to fix the problem.”
The Mosari commander chuckled. “The problem of your ship exploding on entry?”
“I had enough power to propel myself into a stationary orbit,” he protested.
“But not enough power for that and your life support systems,” his instructor scolded. “You humans are very resilient but you do not survive long in a vacuum.”
Jack flinched at the implications in his tone. The Mosari liked to experiment on new species they conquered. It was very likely they had run many trials to see just how long humans did, in fact, survive in a vacuum.
“Can anyone tell me what Cadet Price did wrong?” He turned to the dozen other kids in the flight training class. Most were Mosari or other conquered races but a few humans stood among their ranks. Jack didn’t know how to tell age on most of the others, but the humans were about his own age, maybe as young as fourteen. Say what you would about Mosari brutality, they didn’t harm children.
It was a human girl who raised her hand to answer the commander’s question. “Cadet Price did not follow his orders. He was supposed to regroup with the Gamma squadron in sector eight but he diverted from his course to intercept an incoming attack.”
“Very good, Zira.” Jack felt his ears turning red. It had been her squadron he was trying to save. “His actions were undoubtedly heroic, but heroes get others killed as often as themselves. Do keep that in mind in the future.”
“Yes, Commander Tukla!” the class shouted in unison.
“Alright, that’s enough simulation for one day. Off to the showers with you.” He dismissed them and they turned to go. “Jack, a moment please.” The class paid him no mind as he hung back to see what the commander had to say to him.
The Mosari were a tall, slender race with skin in various muted colors. Tukla’s was a very pale red, almost pink against the backdrop of space behind him. He was much bulkier than the majority of Mosari Jack had spent time with, but his experience was fairly limited to the Empress and her entourage.
Tukla’s stern face frowned at him. Jack braced himself for the reprimand he knew was coming. “I like you, cadet,” he began slowly. “You have great intuition and you fly well enough for one who grew up with roots in the ground. You have the potential to be one of our greatest pilots.”
Jack blinked. This was not the reprimand he was expecting. Tukla was praising him? “Thank you, sir.” Something didn’t sit right.
“Because I like you, I am going to be honest with you.” Jack felt his throat tighten as he swallowed his apprehension. “The Empress has allowed you to enroll in flight training to keep your mind occupied, but she has no intention of allowing you to ever pilot a ship.”
Jack’s heart sank. “But, why?”
Tukla turned away from him and stared out the view panel at the giant blue planet they orbited. “That is something you must ask her for yourself. Perhaps I have offended her and the fault is mine alone, but the Empress is not vindictive. She has her reasons. Perhaps she will explain them to you.”
The Empress. Jack balled his fists and took a deep breath to control his emotions. She wanted him at her side. Of course she wouldn’t just let him fly off and leave her alone. “No,” he said. “I will respect her wishes.”
Tukla raised an eyebrow. “You accept this? You are not disappointed?”
“Of course I am,” Jack answered. He sighed. “I really wanted to fly in actual space. I want to protect the Empress. If that means I’m grounded, so be it. As long as I can continue to learn. Perhaps one day she will need those skills of me.”
Tukla studied him for a long moment. At the end of it, he smiled. “You humans never cease to amaze me,” he said. “Very well, that is all I wished to discuss. You are dismissed.”
Jack saluted and turned to leave the classroom. He didn’t give Earth a second glance. Veralis would be waiting for him. He couldn’t wait to tell her about the day’s training.
Notes: Well, I went back to these characters and this post-invasion Earth. Seems like Jack is doing just fine in space, despite Fae’s concerns. And the invaders have a name now! I should really start jotting notes down for this story world. Find out what the conflict really is between the factions. Which side am I rooting for? I just hope the brothers can meet again.
Tomorrow is another twofer Tuesday! Some rambling, some anecdotes, who knows. Point is I’ll be writing. You should be too! Go go go! I’ll see you tomorrow!