Between Missions (Jotunheim System)

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Alpha Wing (Jotunheim System)

I was surprised when Colonel Halcyon so quickly brushed off Major Taggart's request to ground Maniac. I guess the Colonel didn't consider the mission briefing room the correct forum for such a request, and I'm sure his snap decision was also affected by our depleted pilot roster. We'd taken some heavy losses since we'd jumped into the Deneb Sector.

I knew the Colonel was as concerned about Maniac as the rest of us, but he didn't have the day-to-day contact with the young pilot that we did. He was aware of Maniac's recurring suicidal dream, but he didn't hear about it from the source. He didn't realize just how consumed the lieutenant was by the vision. The colonel didn't hear the absolute terror in Maniac's voice or ob-serve the maniacal look in his eyes when he told of his dream. It was scary.

I talked to Paladin when he returned from his last mission. Maniac had flown as wingman.

"I've got to admit that the lieutenant hasn't lost a second in reflex time and he can still put a Hornet, Raptor, Scimitar, or Rapier through its paces better than anyone," he explained. "The problem is that he's taking every mission personally, and trying single-handedly to take out every enemy fighter. He's not only a danger to himself, but to his wingleader as well. You never know what he's going to do next."

I mentioned that Maniac might be trying to make up for the unfortunate incident in which he had destroyed one of our own sports with a crew of 16. Something like that would work on anyone's psyche, I noted.

"You might be right, Prankster," he said, "but that just strengthens my view that we need to take Maniac out of space and get him some help. Let me tell you what happened yester day. We'd run into a squadron of three Jalthi and I ordered Maniac to break and attack. The battle was going well and we were both using our speed to avoid damage. We'd destroyed two of the cats and I was running a wide circle pattern to bring my blaster power up when I heard this eerie laugh. It was Maniac.

"I switched views and saw Maniac heading straight into the six-shooters of the last Jalthi. He was getting pounded and I could tell he was close to going down. He survived the first run, but I knew his weapon was gone, his missiles were expended, and his computer system was damaged. His only chance was to run and hide.

"Well, Maniac didn't run. I rolled, turned, and hit the after-burners to bring my nose around on the Jalthi. I kept yelling for Maniac to form on my wing, but he just turned, hit the afterburners, and aimed for the heavy fighter. It was crazy. He wasn't firing any guns, just heading in fast to ram the target. I was at full guns and luckily hit the Jalthi with three quick shots. The enemy fighter exploded and Maniac went right through the center of the debris. I'm not sure of his motive, but it was a suicide run if I've ever seen one. I don't like flying with anyone who wants to die."

I knew the pressure of our being alone in Kilrathi space was causing problems for a lot of our pilots. Most of them, however, didn't carry the same burden as Maniac when we entered the system. They could handle it, he couldn't.

I knew the Colonel's hands were tied in many ways. The Tiger's Claw carried medical staff, but we didn't have any psychiatrists or psychologists on board. There was no way we could leave the sector at this point in the battle, and I think the Colonel felt that Maniac's condition would deteriorate more rapidly if he was confined to the carrier and couldn't fly. It was a judgment call, and I couldn't say the Colonel wasn't right.

More than anything, I was ticked off at Admiral Tolwyn. He had given only cursory attention to our earlier request to send Maniac out on solo missions. In that scenario, Maniac might have been able to regain his self-esteem and find himself. At least it would have given him a chance.

I felt bad for thinking it, but I really hoped I wouldn't have to fly with Maniac anymore. Most of the pilots felt the same way.

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Rho Wing (Jotunheim System)