Before I knew it, we were boarding the shuttle; Nightly and Parsons were already on board. I paused at the steps and took another good look at my home of the last five years. Kira was sharing the last quiet conversation with Admiral Hicks; he gave me a few sideways glances.
"Shuttle bravo delta fifteen, you are clear for launch" The tannoy buzzed.
"And Captain," the Admiral called as Kira rushed to the shuttle. "I’m relying on you." She returned his smile with a sharp salute and gave me a shove. I let her pass me and followed, securing the hatch before taking my place and strapping in.
"Launch in 5" came over the system. The pilot gave us a grin before turning back to what he was doing and flipping the last few switches in preparation for the take off. "4, 3, 2, 1. Good luck guys." We were momentarily pinned to our seats as the shuttle launched into open space.
The pilot evened out smoothly and took the coordinated trajectory. It’ll be at least a few hours before we would get to our destination.
"We’ll be briefed once we reach SS Orion" Kira told us.
"The SS Orion?" Nick Parsons seemed incredulous at the idea. Kira shot him a look.
"There is only one SS Orion, and that is where we are heading." I didn’t feel at all surprised. When they were asking for a volunteer, it was clear that the mission would be extremely dangerous – probably nearly impossible. And SS Orion happened to be the most manoeuvrable battleship at the forefront of the fighting. Our war had lasted for fifty years, and no one knew when it would finish. Maybe it never would. Or maybe the Segarians would only calm down once they’d wiped us out - either way we were not about to give up or give in.
"I wonder why they chose us…" Dave Nightly mused and glanced nervously at Kira "Well, Captain is the best on the station, but Parsons and I…" He added quickly. I knew that Kira wanted to roll her eyes, but she resisted the urge and took a steadying breath instead.
"Parsons has a great knowledge of programming and code. And you, Nightly, are great at sneaking around – I do suppose you’ve got some stealth technology prototype up your sleeve that you’ve been dying to test in the field." Dave opened and closed his mouth like a fish for a few seconds, before deciding that it was much better to keep it shut. "You didn’t really think it was going to escape notice for long, did you?" He gave a jittery smile and shook his head. "Thought so." Kira turned to me, as though expecting me to join into the conversation, but I just shrugged at her. The sideways looks the two sergeants were giving me made me uncomfortable. "Zacky? No questions?"
"None Captain" I wasn’t going to let her draw me in. It seemed that she wanted to say something else, but she let it go for the time being.
There was no time to admire the enormous and awe inspiring Orion. We were rushed through several corridors for a short briefing before being deposited back in the fighter bay. A fully prepped stealth craft was already awaiting us there. The sight of the sleek machine would make anyone shudder – it was clear ours was pretty much a suicide mission. I squared my shoulders, determined to make the best of our daring attempt. If we managed to succeed, it would possibly turn the outcome of the war in our favour. It seemed that the others’ resolve was not so firmly placed; I caught Nightly by the arm as he attempted to run for it.
"Where do you think you’re going?" I hissed at him, making sure no one noticed the episode. There were quite a few high ranking officers in the bay who came to see us off, make last minute checks and wish us luck. Nightly pulled at his arm in an attempt to loosen my grasp, but I just held him that much tighter. "By running away you would ensure our failure, our deaths and possibly the deaths of the entire human race. Do you really want this on your conscience?" I looked into his eyes, trying to pass along my conviction. "I may have caused the deaths of innocent people when I made the wrong judgement call with the intent to save them. You will be willingly throwing away other people’s lives for the sake of saving only yourself." He stared back at me blankly before turning himself towards the awaiting craft and I let him go.
"Well done Private" Kira slapped my shoulder as I entered the craft. I didn’t answer – there was no need.
The frantic beeping of the alarm systems was grinding on my nerves. A sweat drenched Parsons was drumming away on ten different interfaces at the same time. Nightly was under the devices, twiddling with the wires and cursing under his breath. Or was it his twisted version of praying? I didn't have the time or the need to dwell on that.