“Move out, repeat, move out. Over,” Mazer heard transmitted as he lay in his bunk.
“Copy, moving out. Over”, he responded. “Alright men, we’re advancing. Get into your fighters. Move!”. He entered his own fighter and led his fleet along. “Squads, confirm contact. Over”,
“Squad A confirming contact. Over”,
“Squad B confirming contact. Over”,
“Squad C confirming contact. Over”,
“Squad D confirming contact. Over”,
“I have a visual of Bugger ships approaching. Perform maneuver T173 Alpha. Over”,
“Copy, T173 Alpha. Requesting orientation statement. Over”,
“The buggers are down. Over”, Mazer said as he oriented himself behind the cone of fighters that formed around him. They dove downward, towards the Bugger fighters, and there was an explosion as one of ships flew towards him and fired…
In his bed, Mazer Rackham woke with a start. In his pool of sweat, he hugged himself and breathed deeply. In, out, in, out. Inhale through nose, exhale through mouth, inhale through nose, exhale through mouth. He calmed down, and began to relax. He got out of bed, there was no chance he’d be getting any more sleep during the artificial night. “You have 8 years on this ship, you had better get used to it.”, he muttered to himself.
He poured himself some water from the sink, took a deep gulp of the cup, and walked through the empty halls. In the first week of this trip, it had already become a habit. There were few others on this ship, and they left him to himself. They never got in his way when he haunted the halls at night. Haunted. That was exactly the right word. That’s exactly what it was, that was precisely what he was. A ghost, a mere specter of his former self. He went to the small dining room of the ship, and sat down in an uncomfortable chair. It was hard, metal, and unyielding, but he couldn’t complain. It wasn’t like the seat of his fighter…
“We’ve suffered heavy damage in Squad A, and we’ve lost two men in Squad C. This is gonna be one of those days. Over”.
“Thanks for the update O’Malley, I feel sooo good.”, Mazer responded. They both laughed, and neither admitted they were a little nervous. “O’Malley, between you and me, I don’t think we’re getting out of this one. Over”.
“Don’t think about it Commander. Sit back and fly, this’ll be fun. Over”.
“Yeah, fun. Over”.
“INCOMING ON YOUR SIX!”
The harsh, white lights turned on, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. He quickly composed himself as a crew member entered holding a tray of food. Quickly, he assumed a stern, serious expression as his breakfast was served. He nodded, stone faced, to the crew member, who hastily left without a word. He might tolerate this trip from Euros and back, just to teach some children how to fight. It was as though Mazer didn’t want to retire, to leave the war, to live a peaceful life. He wanted to go back to Earth more than anything. They would’ve forced him on this ship even if he’d protested. He was just their puppet, their tool.
He ate his breakfast slowly. He hadn’t eaten a good meal in years. His military superiors tried to make sure he was comfortable on this trip, unlike in his military starship and the schools when he was a child. So, the food was something to savor. They really couldn’t succeed in making him truly comfortable though. They couldn’t get in his head and pull out the memories.
“Thanks O’Malley, they almost had me. Over”.
“Come on Rackham, we’d be lost without our Commander. Over”.
“Hey, there’s more Buggers coming for us. It’s a huge swarm. Can we take them? Over”.
“Of course we can, we’ve got Mazer Rackham at the helm. Over”.
“Squad leaders, perform approach N472 Rho, the large swarm over there is down. Over”.
“Squad D requesting instructions for after the approach is performed. Over”.
“Whatever you see fit. Over”.
Mazer mentally oriented himself. The enemy was down, and they were diving nose first towards them. “Here goes nothing.”, he thought as he dove downward. Over the radio, he heard O’Malley whoop in excitement.
Mazer looked out at the void beyond the ship. It was actually beautiful out there when he wasn’t in a fighter being shot at.
“Miss it out there?”
Mazer sighed and turned around to face John. John was well meaning, but he tried so hard. He had become a surrogate to the therapist that Mazer had specifically asked not to have. He didn’t want someone asking about his thoughts, but John didn’t seem to understand that. John was standing up straight, his rigid posture stirring up some memories Mazer didn’t like, particularly of Battle School.
“Yes” Mazer answered, his face stern and still. John didn’t get the message though, and continued to pry.
“You wish you were back out fighting the Buggers?”
“No” he responded, flashing a look that John noticed and knew to avoid. John quickly walked out with a slight look of fear. When John was gone, Mazer went back to gazing out of the window to space.
Mazer fired vigorously at the swarm of Bugger ships as his fleet dove towards them. The swarm was taking heavy damage, but then the Buggers started firing back.
“Mayday! Mayday! Squad A is down! Repeat! Squad A is down! Over”.
“Copy, Squad A is down. Squad B, flank left. Squad D, flank right. Squad C, keep true. Over”.
“Copy, Squad B to flank left. Over”.
“Copy, Squad C to flank right. Over”.
“Diving headlong into the enemy? You’re fun Rackham! Over”.
“Thanks O’Malley. I try. Over”.
“Now, let’s wipe these Buggers from the face of space!” O’Malley accelerated and dove towards the fighters below. He didn’t even notice when he was hit.
Mazer walked to his table and sat down. The crew already had his dinner on his tray. He had made it a condition for this voyage that the crew leave him alone. He cut into the fake steak they resorted to without any cattle in space. It was actually very delicious, but what little appetite he had was satisfied after two bites of the stuff. He sighed, and headed to bed early.
He lay there in his bed, staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep, as usual. He just couldn’t get comfortable. He tried to think relaxing thoughts: a hammock on the side of a beach, floating on his back in a river, standing in a green field. However, he couldn’t keep O’Malley from creeping into his mind. No, think about something else! His mind immediately went to his victory, and his eyes glazed over as he stared blankly at the ceiling.
Mazer sat there, his mind shut down. He had no thoughts, he just drifted towards the fleet of Bugger ships ahead. Then, in his mind, something ignited. He screamed in anger as he accelerated. He bolted right towards the heart of the fleet, speeding up all the way. He fired his guns almost continuously, not caring about the power he was wasting. Buggers fired at him left and right, but he moved too fast, and they didn’t last long when they were in range of his guns.
All of a sudden, as he hit a single ship, something changed in the rest of the ships. The Bugger fighters started moving in whatever path they had been in before. Not steering, not accelerating, not decelerating.
“Come in Commander Rackham! This is Captain Griffen. We’ve received word that all of the buggers appear to have died. Over.”
“Copy, the buggers appear to have died.” he said distantly. He didn’t really comprehend it. His mind had frozen. His consciousness had short-circuited.
Mazer jerked back to awareness. He remembered that day so vividly, and he wished that he could erase it, forget it. It was on that night, that Commander Mazer Rackham, the hero of humanity, the single-handed winner of the Second Invasion, the savior of Earth, in the privacy of his sleeping compartment, cried.