Stories of The 39th Midnight Squadron
Kieran's Resignation from the UEE
14 June 2942
UEES Praetorian – Elysium Class Frigate
Mission Status: Transit to Stanton System for Decommissioning and Refit to Civilian Class Vessel.
Captain Orin Takahashi leaned back in his chair, sighing absently as he gazed at the scatter of stars and the faint wisp of a nebulae cloud drifting by the small window in his office. He hated the administrative role he had been stuck with since his promotion. It was dull work serving along the Perry line, routine patrols and working to keep the aging ships and systems in operational order. He hated these obligations the most, life as an XO was much easier than being the CO. Soon the Praetorian would be docked at one of the shipyards in the Stanton system and the decommissioning work would begin. Before that, he was going to have to speak with a few of his pilots. Some for performance reviews, but this appointment would be the most difficult to deal with. He’d been directed to try to talk one of his pilots out of resigning his commission and leaving the service. He hated this sort of thing; he wasn’t the cheerleader or pep talk sort of person. If he was lucky, after the Praetorian docked he would be assigned to a squadron along the frontier and possibly a chance to get into one of the new F8 Hornets.
The glas unit on his desk chimed, breaking his reverie and notifying him that his scheduled appointment was late. “Typical,“ he muttered to himself. Sloane was always late if it wasn’t a scheduled briefing or a flight. “Probably got his nose buried in some new docuvid about some old Tevarin stories or tombs” he thought to himself.
His memory drifted back to when he first met Kieran Sloane, they had been stationed together briefly on the UEES Terrance Nolan, Sloane flew long range recon patrols with the 131st Greyhounds while Takahashi was the Intel officer for the 95th Squadron, the Laughing Corsairs. Takahashi and a counterpart in the 91st had been tasked with making sure the recon pilots had escorts standing by in case a scouting expedition got too hot and reporting back to their squadron COs with whatever intel the Admiral thought they needed to plan the resulting ops. Sloane wasn’t the typical recon pilot, if there was contact in the system when he was trying to leave, he’d throw his lightly armed and armored 350r into the furball just as eagerly as any of the pilots in the 95th. He knew how to handle a hornet as well, during a Vanduul ambush on the Nolan Sloane had hopped into a spare hornet and helped to beat back the raiders.
He’d been shocked the day Sloane’s packet and reassignment orders had come to him back at the Praetorian’s station in the Horus system. He had never expected to see the pilot in anything other than a recon unit. He hadn’t known Sloane that well outside of ‘work’ other than a few poker games and bouts of drinking in bars. The ghost of a smile drifted across the captain’s face as a bar fight with some locals rose up from the depths of his memories. The local men were upset over the way the local women were fawning over the Nolan’s pilots, it was the sort of fight you see in the vids – fists, bottles and chairs flying around at the end before the local Advocacy and the Fleet’s MPs arrived to break it up. At one point he, Sloane and a Lieutenant Kasharin had taken up a position by a booth to protect each other when the locals brought in some reinforcements. Sloane had yelled out, “Tallyho!” and dived into a group of locals, Takahashi and Kasharin had waded into the mass of flailing limbs and bodies to make sure Sloane wasn’t broken in two. He remembered later Kasharin speaking with Sloane about it when the three of them were in medical being patched up after the fight. She had remarked on how the usually quiet and reserved pilot always seemed to become a different person when in a fight. Sloane had responded that fighting wasn’t in his nature, that he didn’t look to start fights but when it was unavoidable there was no sense in holding back – especially if a friend was in trouble. He’d jumped in the midst of those locals because he’d seen another pilot from the Nolan get cold-cocked from behind.
Takahashi shook his head to get his mind back in the present and tapped the comms icon on his glas to contact the communications officer. Just as he was about to dictate his request, there was a knock at his door.
He straightened up in his chair and glanced quickly over his desk to ensure it was in order. He made a quick adjustment of his uniform and said, “Enter.”
The office door slid open smoothly and Takahashi looked up from his glas to see Lt Commander Kieran Sloane crossing the room and standing stiffly at attention in front of the desk. He met Sloane’s eyes for a moment and then glanced back down at the information that had popped up on his glas:
- UEEN Personnel File #NP541841132RR
- Name: Kieran Sloane
- Birthdate: 18 January 2914 at University Hospital on Riesse in the Rhetor System
- Enlistment Date: 1 July 2934, MacArthur Station, Kilian system
- Height: 1.82 meters
- Weight: 84 kilograms
- Eyes: Blue
- Hair: Black
- Distinguishing Marks: Small scar under left eye, large scar on right forearm
- Education: 18 months at UEE Institute of History and Anthropology on Riesse, voluntarily withdrew
Takahashi set the Glas back on the desk and turned his attention back to Sloane. The Lieutenant Commander was staring straight ahead, his gaze focused on some indistinct point outside the ship. Takahashi’s eyes slid over the squadron patches on the faded flight jacket. An old-fashioned star chart poked out of one of the pockets, Sloane had obviously been lost in searching for some bit of history that had caught his fancy.
“Pilot, remind me when this meeting was scheduled for?” He asked with a stern voice.
Sloane cleared his throat and answered, “Zero Eight Thirty, Captain.”
“And the current time, pilot?”
“Zero eight forty five, Captain.”
“Did I miss a Vanduul raid?" Takahashi asked, looking to see if Sloane would squirm at the grilling, "Perhaps pirates attacking a nearby freighter? Transits on Terra finally secede from the Empire..?”
Kieran didn’t take the bait, “Not that I have heard, sir.” He stated blandly.
Takahashi pressed harder, “No? Then did you maybe mistaken the order to report to me at zero eight thirty as a suggestion?”
Kieran’s eyes shifted beyond the CO as the question hit it’s mark, “No sir. Sorry sir. I…”
“You are not retired from his Imperatorship’s Navy yet, Sloane. It isn’t too late for you to lose another rank.”
“Yes Captain. I understand, sir. I was caught up in a new report on the ruins of Hades and lost track of time, sir. I am still adjusting to being in a formal chain of command, sir. In the Black Watch, we were more or less on our own. I won’t let it happen again sir.”
Captain Takahashi sighed and picked up his glas again to review the pilot’s file, “You have had a rather adventuresome career, Sloane. Twice promoted to Captain, busted in rank three times – recently you were demoted and given a commendation for the same action but the details are classified due to the incident occurring while you were attached to the Greyhounds Black Watch squadron.”
Takahashi glanced up over the glas to see Sloane’s reaction. The man’s face was as impassive as ever. The captain continued, his tone softened a bit, “You seem to have trouble with authority pilot, but your actions in the field are exemplary. It seems as long as the Navy can keep you pointed at the enemy, you are the stuff New United loves to write about when promoting the war effort against the Vanduul. Take a seat, pilot.” he motioned to one of the chairs.
Sloane smiled slightly and slipped into the chair before responding, “I joined the Navy to fight against the Vanduul and to explore the stars, sir. I didn’t join to be a police force against misguided citizens who think the UEE is still run by Messer and his ilk or to help protect the interests of whatever corporation decided to fill the Senate’s coffers.”
The captain nodded slightly. “With your family background, I would have pegged you for being one of the ‘misguided citizens’. Born on Riesse, parents both teachers at one of the universities there. You looked to be following in their footsteps as a teacher until you walked away from the University and joined the UEEN.”
Sloane tensed and leaned forward in his chair, fixing his eyes on Takahashi’s. “I didn’t grow up on Riesse," he replied, trying to control his annoyance at the response, "My father is an archaeologist and my mother is a historian, shortly after my sister Maeve was born we all left Riesse and grew up planet-hopping every time a new system was discovered. I was three when we set off from Riesse. Didn’t go back there again until the day before my first term started.”
He paused, looked down to the floor and muttered something under his breath as he leaned back in his chair. “Sorry Captain," he said more calmly, "it’s not the first time someone implied I might be a political radical because of where I was born. The reaction is a bit reflexive at times.”
Sloane absently scratched the scar under his eye as he spoke, “Growing up like that I caught a bit of wanderlust from my parents. I wanted to keep seeing what was in the next system, to feel the soil of alien worlds sifting through my fingers. At first I thought of taking the route my parents did before they retired, get a degree and maybe teach for a bit before managing to get a grant or a corporate job to survey worlds for alien tech or minerals.”
Sloane sighed as the captain sat quietly listening, "But I guess growing up with teachers for parents and frontier worlds for classrooms meant I had learned most everything I needed to know. Combine that with a slowdown in new systems being discovered due to the UEE bumping up against the Vanduul, Banu and Xi’an and opportunities were slim. The navy was my best shot to get back out onto the frontier without going pirate.”
“So I left school and hopped the first transport heading for Terra to visit my older brother Declan and his family before signing up. After that, I went to MacArthur station on Kilian to sign up and get started right away.” Kieran gestured at the glas in the captain’s hand. “You should have most of the rest there.”
Takahashi nodded as his eyes glance along the glas, “Yes, you did well in flight school. Showed an aptitude for navigation and spending long periods of time alone in space. After a couple of tours on the frontier and numerous sorties against Vanduul raiding parties, you were transferred from your hornet squadron into one of the black watch squadrons.” The captain set the glas back on the desk. He leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingers on the armrest. “After five years of service doing reconnaissance, you have some sort of incident in the Vanguard system that sees you transferred back into a combat squadron with a reduction in rank. And a medal…”
Kieran broke in to say, “The medal was for finding a Vanduul light cruiser and her escort fleet hiding in an asteroid belt undergoing repairs that the Navy was able to destroy. On the way back from scouting the asteroid belt, I found some pirates looting some unknown ruins on one of the planets; the demotion was for jeopardizing the mission and opsec when I shot the pirate’s Caterpillar to shreds.”
Kieran closed his eyes and recited, mimicking the accent of some officer Takahashi vaguely recalled: “Captain Sloane, you not only risked discovery by the Vanduul in the system when you attacked the pirates, you risked exposing your ship and everything we do here. While there are rumors of the modified 350r we fly here, your stunt could have resulted in the pirates taking your ship and learning its secrets. Its very expensive secrets. We operate in the dark, Captain. We are the eyes of the UEE, not the fist.”He reopened his eyes and continued, “Then he took my captain’s insignia, tossed them in the trash and informed me that my duffle bag had already been sent over to one of the ship’s hornet squadrons. Next time we were near a fleet base, I was transferred to the escort carrier Accipiter and shipped out to the Horus system on the Perry line. Once on station there, I was placed under your command here on the Praetorian.”
“I can see ‘classified’ means something different to you than it does the rest of us in the Navy.” he replied.
Kieran smiled ruefully.
“Enough of all that Sloane,” the captain made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Your mistakes in the service aren’t what we are here to discuss. The UEE Navy needs good pilots, you know that. You have been on the frontier and seen what we are facing out there. Hell, you’ve seen more than most being a recon pilot, you’ve been first on the scene after a Vanduul raid before. Why are you leaving the service now when the Navy needs you the most?”
Kieran sighed and ran one hand through his hair and looked around the office. After a moment, he stood up and walked over to look at a picture the captain had hung on the wall. It showed the captain as a young lieutenant junior grade grinning broadly in the company of other lieutenant junior grades. Kieran tapped the picture and spoke without turning back to the captain. “I know this place; it’s a dive bar on MacArthur. The food there makes you appreciate UEE rations, but the booze is cheap. Fresh minted officers I take it?”Takahashi smiled wistfully when he confirmed Kieran’s guess was correct. Memories flooded back to that time for him.
Kieran turned back to the captain and asked, “How many of them are still alive?”
The captain flinched. “Twenty of us were given our wings that day, thirteen are still alive last time I checked the Navy Times. Couple of them mustered out due to injuries received in action.”
Kieran nodded and returned to the chair. “Don’t get me wrong, captain." he stated, seeing the captain wanting him to get to a point of bring up old memories, "It’s not the deaths of friends that caused me to put in my packet to resign my commission. Hell, we lost two pilots the first day of solo flight when one of them got disorientated and turned his Avenger into the pilot flying on his wing.”
“Remember," he continued, "I grew up following my dad around when he was digging around the bones of dead cities and civilizations. Death isn’t a stranger to me, but then there are few in the service that have not known someone lost in combat, seen others die or done their own share of killing.” He took a deep breath, then stood and moved over by the portal to gaze out at the passing stars.
“It’s when the deaths seem to be in vain or have no purpose that it gets under my skin. The Navy seems to be fighting for corporations as much as for the Empire these days. If a new system is discovered and it is found to have humans living there already, they get a visit from the fleet to ensure they join the UEE. If not, we hear over the Spectrum about a nest of pirates being cleaned out of the system. Or a militant group of transits… Or some Messer fanatics…”
This time it was Takahashi’s turn to get annoyed at such a perception as he slammed his hand on the desk, “Dammit Sloane, are you telling me this is some sort of political statement? That this is your way of protesting the political decisions of the UEE? That you think some Senator is going to read a report about a pilot resigning his commission in protest and swoon over your noble gesture?”
He angrily swept the glas and other items off of his desk as he continued, “There’s a god forsaken war going on pilot, or have you forgotten? Good men and women are dying every day out there on the frontier trying to hold the Vanduul in check. We don’t fight for Empire and Imperator, we fight so that folks like your brother and sister can raise their families without fear. We get out there in the black for each other. The pilot on your wing, the Marines we fly CAS for after a Nail drop. Hell, the politicians don’t have the balls to even call this a war while we’re out there bleeding for Imperator and Empire.”
Takahashi paused and took a deep breath to regain control of his temper, “The soldiers and sailors of the UEE don’t do this for the politicians; we all know that system is corrupt. Hell, you know better than most that it’s been that way since before mankind even left Earth.”
Sloane still stood impassively gazing out at the stars, as if the captain’s outburst had never happened. Just as Takahashi opened his mouth to say something else, the lanky pilot turned around and leaned back against the bulkhead. He crossed his arms over his chest, the fingers of one hand absently playing with one of the patches on the sleeve of his jacket.
“Yeah," he began with a low tone, his sights to the floor, "I know all of that Orin, pardon me – Captain. It’s not exactly what you think and I did not choose my words well.” Sloane cocked his head to one side and met Takahashi’s gaze. “Do you remember that operation the Nolan took part in back in ’39 in the Tiber system? The one where we were going in to rescue that crippled battlecruiser?”
The captain nodded, that had been a particularly bloody fight. The Nolan and her escorts had jumped in to find two full Vanduul raiding parties engaged with the battlecruiser Arbalest and her small group. A third Vanduul raiding party had just entered the system at another jump point. They’d lost three destroyers, five frigates and a light cruiser getting the Arbalest out of there. He’d chosen to forget the number of fighters that were lost, but he had helped his CO write eleven condolence letters to families that would not be seeing their loved ones again.
“Yeah, I remember it," the captain said, his voice somber, "The Grinder lived up to her name that day.” He gestured at Kieran’s right arm, “You picked up that scar then if I recall. Your 350 broke up when you brought her in for a landing; some Vanduul had shot her up pretty bad.”
Kieran nodded, his right arm shifted slightly as if the pilot felt a twinge of pain in memory of the crash. “Yeah, the medics tried to get me to go to sick bay, but I told them they had the time it’d take me to cross the flight deck and find a working hornet to get the arm stitched up or I was going to be bleeding all over one of the Admiral’s fighters.”
He chuckled softly at the memory, “I’ll never forget that corpsman shaking his head as he pulled out his kit. He mumbled something about pilots being crazy and women loving scars. But he had me bandaged up before I climbed into a hornet.” He shook his head slowly, his eyes closed. He leaned his head back against the bulkhead and was silent for a moment before he continued, “Did you ever hear why the Arbalest was crippled? Why we had to bring the ship back when it would have been easier to pull the sailors off and blow her power core?”
Takahashi shook his head, “No, with the losses the 95th took I was too busy with the replacements and sending personal effects home to think about it much. I guess I always thought she ran into more Vanduul than expected.”
Sloane smiled ruefully. “If only… if only…” He sighed and returned to his seat. “The Arbalest had been fitted with a new sensor system, one designed to allow her to be a scout. A battlecruiser as a scout, can you believe that? Someone in either fleet or a corporation somewhere had reasoned that with her armor and weapons, a big ship with a more powerful sensor package could get more information than pilots like me could. Problem with the battlecruiser is it’s slow and not very nimble. Even in the vastness of space, it’s not really going to hide all that well now is it?”
Takahashi shook his head, both in disbelief and to give answer to Sloane’s question. Battlecruisers were faster and more nimble than other large ships, but that wasn’t saying much.
Sloane continued, “Trouble was, like most of the new tech being sold to the Navy, it hadn’t really been tested as an integrated system on board a ship. Or to see what sort of power drain it would have on other systems when switched on. The corporate boffins just said it’d work based upon their simulations run back at the lab.”
Sloane smirked and gave Takahashi a knowing look, “You and I know how that works out in the black…”
Takahashi snorted in agreement.
With the captain silent of words, Sloane just kept going thinking back on memories, “My CO in the Greyhounds, Captain Duncan-Smythe, told us about it later when some in the squadron were griping about him making us put our ships through a rigorous testing after they were refitted with some new radio packages. He’d heard it back at HQ in a debriefing; the Arbalest fried her maneuvering controls when they fired up the sensors for the first time. The power surge also did significant damage to her fire control system and forced them to use manual launch procedures for the few fighters she carried. After the distress call went out, some corporate executive on board for the occasion demanded that the Navy get the ship back to a shipyard as there was ‘proprietary’ tech on board.”
“Never mind that the tech was essentially just so much melted slag after the power surge and the resulting signal burst alerted every Vanduul and pirate in the system to their presence. Those were minor details to the suit. Potential profits to protect don’t you know?”
“So rather than shoot a wounded horse after she’s basically broken her legs, the corporate official used his influence to get the Navy to rescue his investment over the protests of the naval officers on board. Once we’d gotten the Arbalest back safely, her captain filed a report that protested the interference from the corporate rep. Fleet HQ asked for his resignation a week later due to his report bordering on ‘gross insubordination.’” Kieran took a deep sigh and slumped back in the chair. He stared out the port, then to the ship bulk head, and then to the captain to bring up his point.
“I’m resigning my commission because I don’t know if the Empire is worth fighting for anymore Orin. Militarily, we’re stretched too thin. Senators are looking at driving wedges into the different factions in the Empire to preserve their power. Corporations are gaining power and influence since the UEE’s going bankrupt building the Synthworld, fighting the Vanduul, keeping the Perry line manned and not finding new systems to colonize among other things.”
“I’m not a Transit by any means, but there’s no mistaking that the UEE is going to break sometime. Might be Terra and the Transits, might be some other splinter group I don’t know… but like you said, I know history. Empires always fall, just a matter of time.” With that, Sloane, leaned back on the chair wondering any of what he said was understood by the captain.
The captain sat quietly for a moment before speaking. If he agreed with Kieran, he didn’t show it. After all, the captain was still an enlisted man, his political opinions and agreements with others were not for open talk. Instead he broke the silence by changing the subject, “So you’re getting out to do what? Turn mercenary? Looking for the lost Artemis? Finding undiscovered jump points…?”
Sloane smiled mischievously and raised one eyebrow, “Perhaps all of the above?” He chuckled and shook his head. “Truth is I don’t know, captain. I’m meeting a group of old friends at Stanton once the Praetorian and I are decommissioned. All I know is we’ll be doing things on our own terms, that we’ll do jobs because we want to and perhaps they are for something we believe in. I’ll be doing what my instincts tell me is right. One day I know I’ll have to choose a side when things start falling apart. I’d rather be jumping into the fight because I believe in it than because someone safe in some room four systems away made the call.”
Sloane leaned forward proudly and stared intently at Takahashi as he added, “And because I’ll be fighting for the friends on my wing, for my own honor. And I’ll know they are there for the same reason.” He rose to attention and raised his hand in salute, holding his posture stiffly his eyes focused on the nothingness in the distance.
Takahashi nodded slowly, then picked his glas up from the floor and tapped out a quick entry in Sloane’s file. He looked back at Sloane, stood at attention, and gave Sloane a hearty salute back, “Dismissed Lt. Commander.”
Sloane dropped his arm and turned to leave.
“Sloane," The captain called out before Kieran got to the door, "keep in touch after you get out. If you or your friends ever need a wingman, I might be available in a year or so.”
Sloane grinned, not turning around for the captain to see, and replied. “Aye, captain. Will do.”
The door slid closed with a click after Sloane left. Takahashi turned his chair around to face the window, his thoughts drifting along with the stars passing by outside the Praetorian. Soon they would dock at Stanton IV for decommission, soon another assignment, soon more pilots to deal with.