“Sorry to drag you into this,” Carter apologized. “But seeing as you’re his regular CO…”
Ferrar shrugged it off while he watched the inner lock door opening. “So you’re considering a disciplinary?”
Carter cleared his throat as the two pilots emerged, the stern Rissa Lee trailing the dour Poe. “I don’t have a choice. My XO radioed for action on the matter. I haven’t made a decision.”
The girl looked uncomfortable. “It isn’t like I want… I mean, he needs to learn he can’t do that kind of crap in training! It’s wrong to screw up a scenario like that!”
Poe glowered at her as the lock door clanged shut behind them, but said nothing. Not quite boiling temperature yet, then.
“Ginsu,” Ferrar hazarded, “may I ask a few questions?”
“He’s your pilot.”
He scratched the corner of his lip, considering how to go about it. “Hmmm. Tell me, Vampire, what did you think you were doing?”
The young flier responded in terse military form. “Reading and reacting, sir.”
“Cat Girl thinks you read ‘Stupid scenario’ and your reaction was ‘Let’s bug this one up and get it over with.”
Poe just stared back at him, angry as ever at the world. Ferrar responded with a thin smile. He already knew the young pilot would never have done such a thing. He just hadn’t yet figured out what lurked inside that hard-to-read mind.
“You don’t agree?”
“With all due respect, sir, I didn’t know that it was a scenario.”
He had not expected that angle. “Your radio chatter made it pretty clear you did.”
The boy stared down at the floor. “Well, yeah, I did at first… but then Rissa talked about how the front line could shift. I got to thinking that if it had, we wouldn’t know. It was too early for visual confirmation and my boards would look the same either way. If it were real, the base underneath me would be toast and everyone would die, unless I found a solution fast.”
A stone formed in Ferrar’s stomach. He knew Poe wouldn’t pull a suicide tactic in simulation without a reasonable cause. It was a guaranteed disciplinary and a red flag to the head doctors. But the idea that he’d done it because he thought it could be a real Enemy attack put a different angle on the discussion.
The silence stretched until Rissa yelled, “Idiot! No way you could make that work IRL! The ship’s guns would take you out before you hit!”
“If they got the chance. I timed it so I would be there right at emergence. We had no other options. We had no real missiles loaded and our projectors were rigged for simulated fire.”
Another silence fell until Poe broke himself by adding in a sullen mutter, “Besides, it was a stupid scenario. That’s why I thought maybe it was all the more possible that it was real instead of a scenario.”
Ferrar wondered, “How was it stupid, Vampire?”
The fire came back into his eyes as he looked back up. “Come on, sir! Two Banshees without anti-shipping weapons against a battle cruiser? Who came up with that?”
Carter looked ready to lose patience. “Had you let the scenario develop, two landing ships would have come in behind the cruiser. It was an invasion scenario. The Gr’ts’ck were coordinating a special training simulation with the local Surface Corps officers. You would give them air support while avoiding the cruiser. The condition for a win was if you could buy enough time for the base to recover from the initial barrage and launch a counterstrike.”
Poe blinked in confusion. Rissa responded instead, puzzled as well. “We had no landing ships on the screen.”
Ferrar took up the explanation. “It was an actual invasion attempt on one of our interstellar bases three months ago. We still don’t know how the Enemy kept their landing ships hidden. Our side beat it back, but it started out just like you saw. The ready alert flight was the only air support to launch before a well timed barrage out of Meta-Space put the field out of action. It was just the ground batteries and two fighters that had to hold the enemy off for over an hour by threatening the landing ships.”
He flashed a grudging smile. “The computers ended the re-enactment before the landers showed up. The aliens hadn’t planned for your choice of action. They didn’t have time to calculate how much damage you might have done to the landers with the Meta-Space backwash from the cruiser, so they couldn’t continue.”
As Poe stewed, Carter shook his head. “I’m sorry, Vampire, but I’m recommending you for counseling. We can’t have guys thinking Kamikaze. Such tactics are wasteful, defeatist, and against Force policy. I can’t condone…”
“That’s fine, sir!” Poe interrupted, once again ready to blow. “I didn’t ask for anyone’s approval!”
“Cadet!” Rissa barked, cutting him off. Poe glowered back at her in silence. The Senior Aviator looked either angry or on the verge of tears.
Her emotional energy wouldn’t let her stay silent. “You would have killed yourself! How could you be so stupid?”
He looked away. “I already gave my reasons.”
She grabbed his arm and braced her feet, yanking him around to face her. The storm clouds in his eyes did nothing to slow her down. “You told us why you picked that particular moment, but I want to know why you want to die at all!”
He shook his head and turned away, but she wouldn’t let him go. He sighed and grumbled, “Don’t be stupid. It’s not like that.”
“Black hair dye, black eyeliner, piercings, sour attitude. None of that screams ‘In love with life’ at me!”
He pulled himself free, snarling, “So I’m not! Is that better? My life sucks! You want me to whine about it? I can give you plenty!”
She stayed in his face, staring up at him with her fists propped on her hips. “So you decided to take the easy way out?”
“No way! All the crap I go through, all the pain pills and therapy I have to take… it’s all because of the damn ‘ware! Everything I’ve been through means nothing if I don’t keep flying!”
She blinked with confusion. Ferrar could see the thoughts running through her head. Pain? Therapy? He’s still in post-nerve-ware treatment?
Even though Ferrar already knew about it, Poe’s outburst had also shocked him. The FC always kept his problems bottled up with grim resolve.
Carter looked just as flummoxed. He hadn’t read the medical section of Poe’s personnel folder either, it seemed. He needed a lot more information before he could deal with this, and he wouldn’t get it from the kid. Ferrar decided it was once more time to take over.
“Ginsu, please don’t take this the wrong way, but if you turn him in, I’ll file a counter-recommendation.”
The man turned toward him, surprised. “What? You can’t approve of what he did!”
“I would have preferred a different method, but I approve of his quick thinking. The rest we should discuss elsewhere.”
“Sir,” Poe interjected, “I’m not asking…”
He cut the boy off with a stern tone. “Discussions between COs are not your concern, Cadet.”