Commander Hermex squinted at the file on his computer;
“Neutron?” he asked.
The individual seated on the other side of the desk squirmed in his seat, clearing his throat.
“Actually it’s Newtron,” he said, and added; “Sir.”
A puzzled expression clouded the Octavian officer’s face.
“Isn’t that what I said?”
Newtron decided just to let it pass.
“So where did you get a name like Neutron, anyway?” continued the Commander.
“It’s a family name,” the applicant replied, “Sir.”
“Yes,” drawled Commander Hermex distractedly. “Says here you’ve only been flying a few months?”
“A-hem,” Newtron began by clearing his throat, “yes, that’s right, Sir. Just since the genetic transfiguring.”
“Genetic modification,” corrected the Commander.
“Yeah,” agreed Newtron, “Since I joined TRI.”
“Well, your stats aren’t inspiring,” continued Hermex reading from the file, “so why do you want to join New Dawn?”
“To fight the Conflux,” answered Newtron, adding; “I’ll learn to fly better.”
Squad New Dawn was almost exclusively dedicated to combatting the alien Conflux incursions in TRI space. New Dawn members were some of the best pilots in TRI space.
The New Dawn Commander steepled his fingers under his chin a leveled his gaze on Newtron.
“So why do you want to join New Dawn?” he repeated, “There are plenty of other squads that fight Conflux.”
Newtron shrank under the Commander’s scrutiny, “Because New Dawn’s the best?”
Hermex inhaled deeply, “better not let any Flux Clearance pilots hear you say that,” he replied. “Look, we’re doing some cadet training in the Gyre sector tomorrow. Be there with a whistle at 0600 and we’ll see what you can do—sort of like an audition, okay?”
“Yes!” answered Newtron excitedly, “Yes Sir, I’ll be there!”
“Attention deficit disorder, really?”
Newtron shrugged; “Yeah.”
Bengaley looked to his friend Dariel for help. The three were sitting in the Quantar Core station commissary. Dariel just rolled her eyes and returned to her notebook.
“You’re saying you’d rather join a flux fighting squad and battle flying homicidal aliens then haul cargo or mine asteroids?” continued Bengaley in bewilderment, “Seriously?”
Newtron shrugged again; “I can’t stay awake flying boring cargo runs and especially not vaporizing asteroids,” he explained. “I’d probably fly the cargo-tow into a jumpgate petal or be podded by a Conflux while mining in my sleep. Maybe chasing flux will keep me awake.”
“The Conflux are more likely to do the chasing,” replied Dariel, “you’d be the chased.”
“Mining and hauling both pay better too,” added Bengaley not unkindly. “You’re not a great pilot Newtron. Flux hunters need to be great pilots. You are not one.”
Newtron looked hurt, “So, I’ll get better,” he replied in defense. “I’m sure they’ll teach me everything I need to know.”
A collection of spacecraft hung motionless near the Amananth-Gyre jumpgate, six small white and one brown shuttle. A larger heavy fighter stood poised in the distance.
“Okay recruits,” began Commander Hermex, “this sector is patrolled by C1 through C3 squid,”—squid being TRI codename for low level Conflux—“I’ve activated the Whistle, and I see something on the radar already. Jibber, you’re up first.”
Pilot Jibber, flying a white and green “Storm” broke formation and proceeded on an intercept course for the incoming C2. The Conflux, looking eerily like a ten ton, purple version of the aquatic mollusk it was named after altered course and made directly for the advancing shuttle. As the range narrowed to less than 5000 meters the squid opened fire, landing several hits on the smaller ship. Jibber returned fire, landing several laser pulses before the C2 broke off the attack, fled a few thousand meters, then returned guns blazing.
The duel lasted several minutes, each landing hits, shields blazing, circling and firing. The Conflux was very accurate—rarely missing—but the shuttle’s lasers were a little more powerful and the shuttle’s shields a little tougher. In the end the squid lost; exploding in a tiny fusion release.
“Okay pilot Jibber, back in formation,” radioed Hermex, voice all business, “Alright Voltar, your turn.”
Voltar moved his shuttle out of line and headed off into the abyss.
The martial dance repeated itself several more times over the next hour. Several shuttles were sparking from serious armor damage, but so far no one had taken a POD ride back to the station. Suddenly the jumpgate flared white and a long, lean scout-ship appeared.
Commander Hermex greeted the newcomer; “Hail, Commander LupinOne.”
“Hail Commander Hermex,” it was the voice of LupinOne, the Squad leader and famous Conflux hunter. “I was just on my way to Quantar Core, mind if I observe the training?”
“Not at all,” replied Hermex, happy to add the Squad Commander’s gravitas to the recruit’s nerves. “Pilot Neutron is up next.”
“Ah, it’s Newtron Sir,” explained Newtron as he nursed his little Apteryx class shuttle forward.
“Isn’t that what I said?” asked Hermex in an aside to LupinOne. “Okay, go already.”
Newtron took a moment toggling through the blips on his radar before he located the incoming C1. The idea that a Conflux, a homicidal alien was now focused on trying to kill him caused Newtron’s legs to go all tingly.