This story is by Evrim Akyilmaz and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
“A good mercenary is a good soldier first!” said the Admiral after a two-hour-long speech. It was boring as hell and Hafler found herself biting the insides of her cheeks, just so she could stay awake.
She never wanted to be a mercenary, it was her uncle’s decision. She never understood why he was so eager to shoot her into space, and why her parents never disagreed, and why she didn’t oppose when her life was designed for her.
But she was a naive young girl back then. Easy to manipulate. If she had the courage she would say no, she would say that she wanted to be a farmer and grow pumpkins, she would say that she wanted to stay at home and not go to space. But even now, after all those years, she still didn’t have the courage to oppose any authority.
“Ahem, ahem, you may experience some disorientation and maybe even suffer from hallucinations. Ahem, we will monitor you closely…” The annoying sound of constant throat cleaning brought Hafler back to the training deck. Looked like Doctor’s taken the stage after Admiral, and started explaining about today’s training. Some sort of simulation from what Hafler understood.
“You all must have played with VR, right?” asked the Doctor.
“Hafler didn’t sir. She is farm grown.”
The whole company started laughing.
“Shut up Randozza!” yelled the Admiral. ”Doctor, please continue.”
“… There will be obstacles, think them as quests in a game. Ahem.”
As Doctor continued, Hafler became more and more agitated.
She should have said something to Randozza. Anything was better than silence.
“…With the push of a button, ahem, we will put you into virtual reality, your brain may not register the transfer. Ahem.”
Why she always stayed silent in front of a confrontation. Why she couldn’t find the words at the right moment.
If it wasn’t for the straps, she would have walked to Randozza and kicked his ass to a pulp. She assured herself. The red light of the intercom blinked, as if in approval.
Admiral answered the intercom.
“Captain, you are needed at the bridge.” said a mechanical female voice.
The deck door slid open and Captain disappeared through the narrow corridors of Admiral’s Pride.
“Doctor, sir? When will the training simulation start?” asked a soldier.
A sinister smile flashed across doctor’s lips. “Who says it hasn’t already. Ahem.”
A loud bang shook the whole training deck. Hafler felt her head was lolling since that was the only part which wasn’t strapped with medical wraps but wires.
“So this is training?” asked another soldier.
“I didn’t…” doctor couldn’t finish his sentence because the pillar holding the deck ceiling fell down, crushing him like a bug, splashing all his blood on to the closest soldiers.
“Fuck this!” Hafler wiggled trying to get loose. She saw Randozza running toward the door, somehow he got himself free.
“Randozza! Randozza, help me!”
Randozza stopped, he looked at the door and then at her. A hard decision.
If it was Hafler she might choose the door, she hoped Randozza was a better person.
Who knew?! Randozza was a better person.
She thanked him with a nod and promised herself to buy Randozza a pint of real earth brew – not that oily piss they serve here as beer.
Once in the corridor, another bang louder than the first one shook the whole ship. The lights flashed a few times and then went off, plunging the narrow corridors into darkness.
Hafler stood frozen in the middle of the crowd, Randozza behind her back, breathing shakily down her ear.
Among soldiers’ boots, next to blue emergency lights, Hafler saw a pig, her pig, Mrs. Pekinns, squelching away in the mud. Mrs. Pekinns stopped by another pair of boots but those boots were facing her when all the others facing away. She looked up.
“Dinner is ready, Alicia. We are waiting for you.” Said the softest voice in the world.
“What?” asked Randozza.
“Nothing. Just hallucinations or some training shit!”
“Hafler, I don’t think this is a training. I have taken training simulations before. This is not like any. There is always disassociation in virt…” His words got lost in another loud bang, much closer this time, which caused the crowd running forward.
When the red evacuation alarms started blaring, Alicia Hafler wouldn’t know what was real, what was not anymore.
The soldiers spurt into the flight deck like the gas out of oxygen tank. Hafler ran toward the fighter that was assigned to her. If it is real and if she could make it, she would save herself and fly back to earth. If it wasn’t real, well, she still needed to complete the training.
Another explosion caused a crackling, metal tearing sound, and a gush of air started pulling Hafler back.
No. So close.
Hafler dodged a barrel, pushed another soldier, inch by inch she made it to her fighter. Once inside, she strapped herself and turned the controls and took off.
She took a deep breath when the fighter left the flight deck before the final explosion. In the darkness of space, she set the fighter to auto-pilot, away from Admiral’s pride.
“I’ve decided to come home.”
“We’re waiting for you.”
Adrenalin turned to a sudden tiredness but she could rest now. Just a bit. After all, it was all a training simulation.
She released the breath she was holding.
In a pumpkin farm back on earth, Hafler family got a formal mail from US Starship Academy. The letter told about an ambush. The whole world deplored of the attack as Admiral’s Pride was nothing but a training star fleet. The soldiers were reported under a training simulation while the attack happened and they didn’t even fight back. Alas, they didn’t suffer. The letter invited them to the service to honor all those who lost their lives in this vulgar attack.
A pig squealed in the mud. A mother screamed.
Robert McManus says
Enjoyed this take on the ambushed fleet prompt. Captures military life very quickly and then presents the chaos of war just as as quickly and precisely.