Fasbo stood at the head of the class, arms crossed across his narrow chest, the long slender fingers of his right hand caressing his jaw. He looked speculatively at Lucas, who sat in the second of the two rows, behind the empty seat that once held his classmate. The glare from Fasbo continued for so long, Lucas was starting to squirm. He was already uncomfortable sitting there in his sweaty t-shirt. It’s cool dampness was causing him to shiver. It felt as if his grandma wrapped his torso with one of her famous, ice filled water bottles. One of her favorite home remedies anytime he presented her with any kind of bump or bruise.
Upon putting their T-350’s to bed, they received a quick debrief from their flight instructors, who then sent them to their classroom, “and skip the shower,” Fartan told him, “you don’t have time.” Apparently, the debriefing they received from their personal flight instructors was not enough, Fasbo needed to weigh in as well.
“Whatever inspired you to use maneuvering thruster in such an unorthodox fashion?” Fartan finally asked him, dropping his hand from his long chin.
“I don’t know,” Lucas started with, trying to come up with something more intelligent, “I was sort of out of ideas. Everyone was using the slam on your breaks and hope they fly by routine. I figured the German pilot would see that one coming a mile away.”
Fartan shifted his weight, and studied Lucas for a moment longer.
“You do know the reason those thrusters are not part of your regular flight controls is because they are supposed to be controlled by the computer?” Fasbo offered what the class learned to recognize as a smirk, “you really went out of your way for that maneuver.”
“I needed something unpredictable.” Lucas answered right back, trying to replay the maneuver in his head. Before he could form a clear picture in his mind, the lights dimmed and a holographic representation of today’s battle filled the front of the classroom, Fasbo standing in the middle with is holopointer.
“This is Lucas’s ship, his wingman dutifully following his lead,” Fasbo pointed to the two T-350’s. “As you can see, there are three German trainees on their tail. It does not look good for your classmates here.”
The holographic replay started moving forward at reduced speed. Lucas could tell by the start if his slow turn to starboard that this was the point just before he told Brenda to break left.
“As you notice,” Fasbo narrated as the scene played out, “Lucas feigns a slow turn to starboard. Something I hope you all recognize as an obvious mistake. His opponent can, and does easily turn inside his arc, gaining the advantage.
“The next obvious maneuver would be something more radical in one of the other three axis’s. Alas,” Fasbo exclaims as Lucas’s ship abruptly slides left. “Lucas went a different direction – figuratively and literally.
“This was an impressive, if not unconventional maneuver. Lucas, explain the steps you need to make this maneuver work.”
Lucas took a moment to visualize his cockpit, and the placement of controls. Fasbo was correct, there was no reason to manually use the maneuvering thruster within a normal flight envelope. It was something he started playing with during downtime in the flight simulator. Whenever Fartan told him to amuse himself while he setup the next training exercise, Lucas pretended his T-350 was a helicopter, and taught himself how to hover using the maneuvering thrusters. Eventually, he could get his space craft to move in lazy circles, while maintaining an even plane. At least in the simulator.
Down by Lucas’s left hip is a console. From it protrudes the throttle. This console also houses several touch panels and displays not essential to flight. Behind the throttle is a ball set into the console. Much like the ball found in the game Missile Command. If the pilot rolled the ball in one direction, for example to the left, the right maneuvering thrusters fires, and the ship moves left. The faster the pilot spins the ball, the higher the thrust output. When rolled front or back, it lowers or raises the nose of the spacecraft off plane.
Lucas stood up and turned to face his classmates, “I used to play with the thruster control during downtime. I got pretty good at it. That slip, or slide Fasbo showed us just seemed like it might work.” Lucas replayed the maneuver in his head again.
“I didn’t know how many would follow Brenda, and was pleasantly surprised it was two. Then I only needed to deal with one. As quickly as possible, so I could possibly save her ass. I cut the throttle back to about twenty-five percent, then immediately dropped my hand back to the thrusters control and spun the thing left. I kicked in a whole bunch of right pedal to bring the nose around while still sliding left. That gave me the distance I needed to target, and fire on my opponent before he could come around.”
“You humans are an interesting bunch,” Fasbo commented as Lucas slid back into his seat.
“The Galactic Federation has studied the human race for over a century of your time. Though there is nothing extraordinary about your development during our observations, or through the study of your history, occasionally, an individual will do something that is so contradictory to what we anticipate, and we cannot help but be amazed.
“When we asked the Avian’s to develop a fighter for humans, we asked that they model the performance characteristics and controls after your Terran based aircraft. You are a fragile bunch, therefore, there are limits to how much we can expect out of you when it comes to g-forces. What we did not anticipate was one of you would go outside the design limits of a T-350 for strategic advantage.
“It is somewhat of a pleasant surprise. It does however put us into a quandary. We must now rethink our training syllabus to accommodate Luca’s new-found tactic.”
Fasbo scanned the faces sitting before him, “we may also seek out volunteers for testing. I think the Gaffed as you so affectionately call us, is very curious to see what your limits truly are.
“Report back to your rooms. Before you go home today, your HAM’s will want to discuss training routines throughout the summer. It appears most of you will not have school as a cover for much longer.”
* * * * *
Lucas sat, then stood, then paced as he reviewed the days sequence of events. It excited him that he did something so out of the norm that he may have forced the Gaffed to re-write their training curriculum.
“I wonder if we will see a redesign of the T-350?” Lucas said to what he thought was an empty room.
“Oh, you are stuck with those for the foreseeable future. Spaceships are not cheap my dear Lucas,” Portia said from the open doorway.
“Ahh, you scared me,” Lucas exclaimed as he spun around to face her.
“The door has a lock,” she said, reminding him of a very similar discussion not that long ago.
“Sit,” she said, noting the arrangement of chairs Lucas called up in anticipation of her arrival.
Lucas took the chair furthest from the door, allowing Portia the one closest to her. He waited until she lowered herself into her seat before saying anything.
“Well, now what?” He blurted out, still wired from the start she gave him.
“School is out next week. My sim has gotten good at being me, but not good enough to fool my parents, or my friends outside of school,” Lucas said.
“There is only about a month of training left,” Portia started after collecting her thoughts, “maybe six weeks if the curriculum undergoes a major overhaul. We have addressed each student in a manner that best suits your situation. For you, it’s Boy Scouts.”
“Yes, Boy Scouts. We sent a letter to your parents a few weeks ago saying that you won a scholarship to six weeks of summer camp starting the Monday after you get out of school.”
“And they bought it?” Lucas exclaimed.
“Well, your grades have shown impressive improvement,” Portia responded, a twinkle of amusement in her almond shaped eyes. “You’re grades, and an impressive essay letter your Scout Master coached you to write was what won you the scholarship.”
“What if they say no,” Lucas asked.
“They already signed the permission slip.”
“No way,” Lucas said, clearly astounded by Portia’s revelation. “What if they did say no?”
“We did not pick a solution on a whim Lucas. We studied you and your parent’s relationship for a long time before deciding on a course that would allow you to continue your training without jeopardizing the secrecy of our mission.
“You have gone off on many a Boy Scout camping trip. All be it, mostly short weekend jaunts, with a couple of week long trips that you managed to pay for through the selling of…Christmas wreaths. Cost was the only issue we could foresee keeping you from going.
“You know your mom has been shipping you off for the summer since you were a child.”
Lucas thought on that for a moment, remembering all the summers he spent with his grandparents. Either at their home in Bloomington, or the lake cabin in Wisconsin. Ultimately, entire summers on the farm when they sold off everything to go back to farming. Hell, just last summer they shipped him off to his step grandmothers for the summer after the house fire house early in that spring. One day he was making an egg sandwich in the kitchen, the next day he is trying to figure out how to keep boredom from driving him out of his mind on his grandmothers five acres. She lives way the hell out in bum screw Lakeville. Just walking to the Tom Thumb was a two-hour affair along the little used railroad tracks.
A kid, no matter how active his imagination can only play alone for so long before running out of ideas. Hell, his parents only came to visit him one time in the two months he lived there. Nope, as he thought about it, it did not surprise him they so quickly signed off on him going on a six-week camping trip with the Boy Scouts. Especially if it was not going to cost them a penny.
“I suppose they celebrated shortly after signing the slip,” Lucas finally said dejectedly.
“No, they did not celebrate Lucas,” Portia said, expressing sadness at Lucas’s tone, “your parents are not bad people.”
“If they were bad people, I wouldn’t be here training to defend them,” he answered back, “just don’t always feel like I am much…,” realization slapped Lucas like a hand across the face causing him to stumble on the next word, “loved.”
Six weeks of permanent residence on this space station. Six weeks of no personal contact with Sarah. Lucas thought as he groaned aloud.
“You will have to attend to matters during your break from training,” Portia said using the look on his face to read his thoughts. “We cannot have your returning to that distracted mess you were a few weeks back.
“You will report for training your last day of school, next Tuesday. Once you return to Terra, you have until the following Monday to get your affairs in order. Monday afternoon, your parents will drop you off at the church where you normally attend Boy Scout meetings. From there, you will board a van that will take you to camp.
“Don’t show up with your head lost in your heart Lucas,” Portia said.
With that she stood, gave him one more admonishing look, then turned and walked out of his room.
Lucas did not have much more time before his shuttle pod sent Portia a message alerting her to the fact that he was late for departure back to Earth. However, at the moment, the last thing he wanted to do was move from his seat.
His thoughts drifted back to sixth grade. The White girls are the hottest attaction in the neighborhood. Every guy that went out with one of the White sisters was a god. Lucas was one of those gods. Kristen White showed him just a modicum of interest, and Lucas exploited it. He showered her with attention on the bus, and spent as much time as he could around their white two-story home on the corner. Finally, after a couple of weeks he gained the nerve to ask her out.
She said yes.
Two days later Lucas left for summer Boy Scout camp. It was only a week, but the day after he returned home there was a knock on his front door. To his delight, it was Kristen. But his delight didn’t last long. As quick as she could force the words out of her beautiful mouth she said, “Lucas, I don’t want to go out with you anymore.”
Then she was gone.
The breakup did not crush him, but he was disappointed. He knew she broke up with him because shortly after asking her out, he was gone.
Apparently, Lucas thought, woman want attention.
How was he going to keep Sarah if he was gone for six weeks? Six weeks of no phone calls, no visits, no contact at all except a letter scratched out when there was time. Summer offered so many opportunities for Sarah to find someone else. All the other junior high kids will have all the free time in the world. Time to spend with his girl.
Ugh! He said as he pulled himself from his seat.
“Saving the planet is sure becoming a pain in the ass.”