This is the 89th in a series of 365 Flash Fiction stories I’m writing. You can find out more about the challenge here.
Diligent, The Recruit, by Jonathan L. Lawrence, 28th February 2013
Word count: 951
“A ship like this gets in a lot of scrapes,” the recruiting sergeant said. “This isn’t a safe life, but it is profitable.”
“Transporting strawberries?” the prospective recruit said with a smile.
“Precisely,” the sergeant said ignoring the man’s joke.
“So what’s she carrying fighter wise?” the recruit asked.
“Three scorpion class fighters with the manoeuvrability mods,” the sergeant said. The recruit was sold.
Four days later Riston Stoker, the prospective recruit, boarded the Diligent. Officially the Diligent was a transport ship, but everyone knew she was really a pirate space ship, even SBO had used it’s stories to create a holo show, Free Men of Space.
“Welcome aboard the Diligent,” the recruiter said as soon as Riston crossed the airlock.
“Pleasure to be here,” Riston said awkwardly. He’d spent eight years as a fighter pilot for American Spaceways, a commercial military operation, things were very formal there, the jovial recruiter was an oddity.
“Stow you’re things here,” he handed over a piece of card, “Ship launches in three hours, once we’re safely off the captain will want to see you.”
“Someone’s watched too much SBO, and not enough news. Everyone knows Arsene heads up the international terraforming initiative,” the recruiter laughed.
“Oh, I’d heard he’d returned to his old life,” Riston said, “No matter, it’s an honour to be here.”
“Get on with you,” the recruiter said slapping Riston on the back still laughing, “I’ve got hard arse Marines to welcome.”
“Yes Sir,” Riston involuntarily saluted snappily and stalked off.
The new recruits met with Josef, the captain, who welcomed then aboard the Diligent, informed them they would each get one half share per month for the first three months, then a while share there after, plus particular performance rewards.
Aside from the informality, life on board ship was fairly normal. The first week was quiet so they Riston training in one of the three fighters, proving his qualifications and experience were factual.
In the second week he was ordered to the fighters and told to make ready. He strapped himself in, performed the system checks, so he knew he wouldn’t die from a mechanical fault and waited.
Josef’s face came on the small holo screen in front of him.
“Okay pilots, normally I’d brief you in person, but we didn’t have time. We’re about to jump into the New Orleans Spaceway, were shortly, or already, there is a nice fat transport. It will be guarded, your job is to keep the focus off of the Diligent. If you have no choice, take the guards out. Defensive fire zones are already programmed into your scanners, we’ll update as the situation changes. We jump in forty seven seconds, just one jump. Detach as soon as we’re on the other side. Good luck,” Josef signed off without taking questions.
Riston’s hands gripped and released the analogue flight yolk.
“Okay you heard the man,” Oliver Spillane said over the holo screen, detach on complete jump, then hit the scanners. If no contacts I want low energy formation flying round the Diligent, when contacts appear call your targets and go. Hit and evade, keep the guarding ships focus.” Oliver was flight commander on this run, though normally second in command, Charles Blériot was sitting this one out. Probably to watch his latest recruit in action Riston realised.
With no more briefing than that, the ship finished accelerating to jump speed, and then jumped. Punching a hole through the universe in the form of an artificial wormhole, and then depositing the Diligent back into normal space.
Riston pulled the release lever, undocking himself from the hull of the Diligent, and was straight on the scanners. Information flooded in, crucially details on a freighter and a single patrol craft.
“Target beta one engines,” Riston called into his radio.
“Target beta one sensors,” Adrian Volks claimed over the radio near simultaneously.
“Copy support two,” Oliver said, confirming Adrian’s target, “Support three negative, target port side sensors on target alpha one.”
Riston was designated support three on this mission, “Copy, support one.”
“I’ve got Alpha One engines,” a Oliver reported.
All three ships had broken away from the much heavier Diligent, Riston was correcting course to overshoot the freighted and come back round on its far side.
Scorpion class fighters were long, featuring three weapon systems, two long forward facing plasma cannons, two largely automatic and low calibre defence turrets, and a handful of missiles.
Riston brought his ship round and opened fire, and then quickly dashed off before freighter or the patrol ship’s computers could predict his movements.
“Support three, withdraw into defensive position,” Charles Blériot called over the radio. Riston fought the impulse to argue, and manoeuvred back into position, for the more dull guard duty, supplementing the Diligent’s defences. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was busy work.
After the fight, when the fighters had docked, and the Diligent had jumped away from the scene of the crime, Riston was called into the see Blériot. Riston tapped on the door.
“Come in,” Charles called. “You know why you’re here?”
“Performance review?” Riston asked.
“Yes. You did well,” Charles said simply, he didn’t add anything else.
Riston looked round, wondering what to do, “Sir, why was I pulled back?”
“You had your trial, you did well, why push it? And it’s not sir. We’re free men, you’re a free man.”
“Yes, S…” Riston started, “Yes Charles.”
“You’ve earned your place for now, don’t worry. There’s plenty of opportunity to be a hero, though word of advice – it’s better to be rich than dead. Clear out,” Charles said.
Riston stepped out, reeling from the lack of discipline, and the positive assessment after a fairly dull mission.