USS Pioneer NCC-74757


Hard Lessons

Posted on Mon Feb 4th, 2019 @ 2:14pm by Captain Cornelius Tremble
Edited on on Thu Feb 7th, 2019 @ 4:04am

Mission: Academy Days
Location: Taradis VI system; Federation Marine Training Depot
Timeline: Way too many years ago
1935 words - 4 OF Standard Post Measure

The chow hall was relatively empty. Which wasn’t surprising, really. Marine Corp recruit training at Taradis VI was very transient, with classes rotating from the semi-permanent base camp on the planet’s surface, the moon base on Wink, and the SS Krugeran.

One week they camped in the desert or jungles, then two nights in zero-g, and back to the Krugeran. Then it would all change and they would rotate again. In all, he’d been in-system for twenty eight weeks.

Neil drank more tea and tried to relax. It was a rare break and he was wiped out. His cadre, now down to six from their starting twenty had just finished 10 days of survival training on Wink’s far side, doing Evasion training against instructors. The instructors didn’t try all that hard, just enough to make sure the trainees weren’t being overly stupid.

Three of their number had been found, Neil included. Now they were waiting for the remainder of the group to join them before moving on. He’d been told to go to the chow hall after the debrief and wait.

So he was waiting.

He was expecting the hammer to drop. He’d recommended to Natasha, their squad leader, that they should move their listening post out further, pairing the squad-mates twelve days out when their extraction had not shown. They’d been following the book thus far, dispersing individually at 500 meter intervals around the passive sensor array they’d inserted with, set up, and set out to guard until relieved. They met in two’s, every 24 hours to check the sensors and each other, adding passive air cylinders and replacing filters on the suits they wore.

She’d told him to stuff it and follow orders. Then, seven hours later had come looking for him leaving her area of responsibility to talk to him. Neil was shocked: she’d finally hit her limit, freaking out. He’d been trying to get her calmed down and back to post when the patrol skiff had passed and she’d started shooting at it…

They’d been summarily stunned and beamed into a holding cell, waking up twenty minutes later to a pair of grim faced instructors.

Over three hours, he’d been debriefed and given accounts of their actions, matched up with their suit recorders and when the computer confirmed that his verbal account matched, he was told to clean up and wait in the chow hall.

He’d been relatively excited by the shower and looking forward to some real chow, rather than survival rations.

And he’d been disappointed. The computer had informed him that he was still on training rations until the rest of his cadre returned and had provided him with a suspicious slurry known as ration supplement #16, a slurry that tasted like a miso broth and had the consistency of oatmeal.

He ate three bites, pushed the bowl away and settled for tea.

“Enjoying yourself, Boot?” A gravely voice he instantly recognized as Sgt. D’shar asked him. The Andorian was a highly decorated, fifteen year veteran of the Corp and feared by the Cadres.

She had a reputation for washing more beings out than any other DI. He started to his feet and she said, “Keep your seat, Boot. You and your Cadre had quite a tenure on that Op. Twelve days, nearly the record. You probably would have made it if your squad leader hadn’t bugged.”

“I… Yes, ma’am,” was all he could think to say.

“We went through your report, comparing it to everyone else. Why did you recommend going against op orders to team up?”

Neil gave himself a few moments to think, then said “At our last couple of check-in’s, Sergeant, it seemed to me that we were hitting stress limits. Isolation was wearing on some of us and I thought it might help. A day or so of that might be enough to buck us up.”

D’Shar eyed him coldly and asked, “Are you a psychologist now, Boot?”

“No, ma’am,” Neil said, sighing inwardly. “It was my observation and my squad leader shut me down.”

D’Shar grunted at him and just sat there for several minutes. “And she lost her $hit. What do you think about her decision, based on that?’

Neil shrugged then, then decided to go all in. “It was her call, Sergeant. But I think she made the wrong call, given the circumstances.”

“But you didn’t think to try and over-ride her? Take control of the squad,” D’Shar queried him.

Neil could only shake his head. “No, ma’am. She wasn’t mad or in-capable.” He stopped then, adding, ~At least not at that point.~

Natasha was a close friend.

D’Shar next words surprised him, “Right. Well, all the DI’s agree, you did the right thing. And you were right about pairing up.”

The surprise was evident on his face, “Ma’am?”

“You read your cadre right. You were in-tune with your own mind set and weren’t afraid to go against the book for the betterment of the mission. You weren’t in command and your suggestion didn’t sway your squad leader because her mind just wasn’t flexible enough.”

Neil opened his mouth to argue but she held up her hand, “Strain of command. Recruit Shaw was frayed emotionally and was leaning totally on the book and op orders to help her get though. Those are there to help a leader get through. She just didn’t have the ability to see past that. A leader has to make the decisions, but you also have to be able to listen and do what’s best for the mission.”

She tapped her knuckles on the table to highlight her point, “Switching up your cover pattern to two man posts wouldn’t have made that much difference, if you had camouflaged as you were doing anyway and using the low frequency talking cables would have been virtually impossible to detect. Given the terrain, your coverage wouldn’t have diminished much.”

She paused to let her words sink in and he asked, “Permission to speak freely, ma’am.” When she nodded, he said “What should I have done, then? You already said both of my decisions were right. If I had been right, shouldn’t I have done something?”

“Maybe, but as you said she hadn’t reached her breaking point when you made contact hours before. Had you tried, you’d have been wrong, as far as orders go. But, you’d have saved the mission and maybe your team from capture. A tough lesson to learn, Boot.”

Peering at her, the question in his eyes she told him, “Recruit Shaw chose to withdraw from training. She’s already beamed out to the Krugeran’s transient quarters.”

Neil again felt shock wash over him, “But Sergeant…”

D’Shar stopped him with an upraised hand, “Her choice, Tremble. But you need to know that she washed herself out because she has decided she couldn’t take the idea of spending ten, twenty, and quite possibly longer, days in a suit like that ever again.”

The DI shook her head then and shifted in her seat across from him. “I don’t blame her for bugging on the exercise. It’s more or less expected, depending on the recruit.”

Neil eyed D’Shar, then said “You push and push to find out who can hack it. To find out limitations.” There was an accusatory tone in his voice the he couldn’t quite squash.

The DI’s eyes narrowed then and she leaned toward him, “Partially, recruit. Beyond that, it’s so you learn your own limits and that you can push past. We told you retches that at the beginning that you’d find out about yourself.”

She paused for effect then, before finishing “Some things good and bad.”

D’Shar let that sink in, giving Neil time to think then she pulled a recruit squad leader band from a pocket and placed it before him. “We were surprised you didn’t show your leadership ability sooner in the program. But you’ll lead the remainder of your cadre through graduation and have earned yourself PFC status, in effect when your orders are cut.”

Neil blinked at that, not moving to pick it up. “Answer me this, recruit.” He looked up, meeting her eyes.

“Did you purposely let yourself coast during part of the training. Reviewing your progress, it seems evident.”

Neil met her eyes and didn’t say anything for a moment, then answered. “Aye aye, ma’am. My dad suggested I try to ride near the middle of the pack if I could. He said it was always his policy to keep the most scrutiny off himself.”

“Your father always was a pain in the behind,” she groused.

Neil could only say, “Yes ma’am.” As she stood then and said, “You’re released from the problem. The rest of your cadre will be joining you within a couple of hours, so you’re free to get some real chow. Then get some rest, recruit.” Then she turned and walked out of the chow hall.

He stared at the chevron as she waked away, his mind churning through the past ten minutes. Finally he sighed, picked up the chevron and slipped it on his jumpsuit’s shoulder. Then he picked up the bowl of supplement and returned it to the recycler and left. Neil wasn’t feeling particularly hungry and Natasha was on his mind.

They’d been friends, and like that she was gone. He had a feeling that combat could be like that and knew that he would likely experience the same feelings for the duration of his career.

Friends abruptly just being gone.

To be fair, his father and grandfather had warned him. That's what life in a combat unit was like.

It was still sobering to confront and it had him wondering if he’d made the right choice, following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. They’d lost others during training, but this felt different and he needed to wrap his head around it.

He felt responsible for Natasha’s washing out and wished he could talk to her, but that wasn’t going to happen.

He wandered back to the empty squad bay they were bunking in, found his and dropped into the rack. The rest of the squad would be here soon and he’d have to be social then. They’d celebrate the end of the scenario and his selection while avoiding topics about Nat. He turned over and found a piece of paper jammed in his pillow case. Unfolding it, he saw Nat had left him a brief scrawl.

~Not your fault, dummy. Mine. Get over yourself and move along, Boot! Love Nat~

He wondered how’d she’d had time to write that. When you rang the bell, you were shuffled off fairly quickly. Neil tucked the paper away in a pocket as he heard voices in the corridor as the rest of his cadre began filling in.

It would all require some thought, but that would have to be later. He was too tired to think about much of anything. Neil had a sneaking suspicion that his dreams, when he slept, weren’t going to be easy on him.

Second Lieutenant Cornelius Tremble
Marine Commanding Officer, USS Pioneer