Between Missions (Rostov System)

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The following entry continues the memoirs of Lt. Col. Carl T. LaFong as found in Wing Commander I and II: The Ultimate Strategy Guide.

Previous Memoir Entry:
Gamma Wing (Rostov System)

Between Missions

I kept running through the things I could possibly say to Marshall as I wound through the labyrinth of corridors to his room. Since our talk after the missions in the Cheng-Du System, I hadn't heard any more complaints about his performance. As far as I knew, he'd taken our conversation to heart and had really tried to work with his wingleader. I'm sure I'd have heard if he had disobeyed orders and taken off half-cocked on one of his personal battles against the Kilrathi.

I kept thinking of how I would feel in the same situation. I'd been in enough battles by then to understand how confusing space combat could become. The comm circuits were full of people screaming and yelling, enemy targets seemed to appear out of nowhere, and missiles and guns streaked through the battlefield. It could drive you crazy.

I could tell he'd had a few drinks from his private locker stock when he answered the door. It must have been something stronger than Goddard Special.

"Hey, Prankster, you're looking good," he slurred. He walked over to the table, had a seat, and poured himself another. I refused his offer of the same.

"I heard about what happened today, Maniac. It must have been rough. It could have happened to anyone you know." I walked over and sat on the cot facing him. He was shaking.

"But it didn't happen to just anyone, Prankster. It happened to me. Fourteen people went down with that sport, and I'm the one who hit the button and sent that damn missile out there." Maniac took a long swallow. When he looked up there were tears in his eyes.

"In every war there are casualties," I replied softly. "And in every war there are casualties caused by friendly fire. It's some-thing we'll always try to prevent, but probably never eradicate. Look, Maniac, every pilot on the Claw has been in a situation where they had to launch a Friend-or-Foe missile and couldn't be sure it wouldn't lock on to a friendly ship. It's a decision combat pilots have to make."

Marshall didn't say anything for a few minutes. His glazed eyes roamed the cabin, glancing at the books on the shelf, his uniform hanging in the comer, and the photograph of our academy class taken just a few months ago. I felt uncomfortable.

"It's strange, Prankster. I really thought I was on top of things. I was flying on Paladin's wing, escorting a Drayman back to the carrier. It was 'by-the-book' the whole way. Unnerstand what I'm sayin ? I was doin' it right, Prankster."

"When the four Gratha came at the Drayman, I wanted to head them off. But I waited for Paladin's orders. When he said break, I broke. When he said attack, I attacked. Before we had a chance to turn, I saw three more blips on the radar, and all of a sudden it was pandemonium. We were yelling at the pilots, they were yelling back and there were ships everywhere.

"I thought I had only used one of my two Darts on the first Gratha, and when I came up behind another one, I launched again. The timing was awful. The target was passing over the Drayman and turning behind it to hide. That's when I realized it was a Pilum and the closest target was the Drayman. I had fired two Darts at the first Gratha. I tried to destroy the missile with my mass drivers, but I was too late.

The Drayman had taken a lot of damage and the missile strike was the last straw. It blew up.

"Paladin started screaming at me and didn't let up until we were back on the carrier. Halcyon suspended me from flying again until a board hearing could be convened, and none of the other pilots would look me in the eye. That's when I headed here. What am I gonna do, Prankster? I'm all torn up inside."

I stood and began to pace the room, gathering my thoughts. Marshall moved to the bunk, stretched out, and closed his eyes. "We've had our problems, Prankster, but I always looked up to you. All I ever wanted was to be a space pilot. I wanted it so bad that I wouldn't let anyone inside to see my fears. It always looked easy to you. You knew what to say, when to say it, and who to say it to. I could never do that. My flying skills were all I had. I'm afraid, now, that they might be taken away."

I didn't know what to say or do and that's what I told Maniac. "Just hang in there, Marshall," I said as I left. "That's all you can do. Just hang in there."

I was worried. He was really taking it hard. and the Confederation couldn't afford the loss of any pilots, especially ones with Marshall's skills. To make matters worse, this came before he'd had a chance to prove to the other pilots that he had changed, or at least was making a real effort to cooperate. They were livid, and felt that his error reflected poorly on every one of the Claw's pilots. It was Marshall's misfortune to be the first pilot in the carrier's 10-year history who mistakenly destroyed a friendly. It would be a difficult, if not impossible, distinction to live down.

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Xi Wing (Rostov System)