Expendable

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The sixth episode of Wing Commander Academy (seventh by air date). Story by Mark Edens, writing by Ted Pederson and Francis Moss.

Synopsis

Maverick, Maniac and Archer scramble from the Tiger's Claw as the carrier emerges from jumpspace. Maverick and Maniac identify a Kilrathi jump buoy in orbit around a nearby pulsar, which Commodore Tolwyn orders them to destroy. Maniac and Archer lead the attack, with Maverick in reserve. The buoy launches a volley of missiles as the fighters approach, most of which Archer and Maniac manage to shoot down, but one missile goes wide and locks onto Maniac's fighter. Maverick shoots down the missile, while Archer destroys the buoy. On the return flight, Maverick jovially taunts Maniac over needing his help, while a chastened Maniac blusters that he'll hang up his wings when that happens.

Back on the Claw, Tolwyn discusses with the cadets the strategic implications of the pulsar―unlike charted, stable jump points, the "supernode" has an untold number of potential jump points to other pulsars. All the cadets save, Paz, volunteer for the jump recon, but Tolwyn selects Blair and Price, over Marshall's objections. The two are ordered to avoid enemy contact and return back with the reconnaissance information. "You're no good to me reduced to atoms," Tolwyn says bluntly.

As Tech McEaddens refits Maverick's Broadsword bomber for "the long jump", Marshall gripes to Bowman over being rejected, citing the "Blair family connections." Dr. Andropolos reports the rumors of favoritism to Tolwyn, who blithely responds that "I'm doing Maverick no favors sending him on this mission."

As Maverick and Payback emerge from the node, Maverick immediately spots three Kilrathi carriers, as well as an unknown, larger fourth contact. Maverick orders Payback to take care of the two intercepting Kilrathi fighters while he plots jump coordinates back to the Claw. Payback easily disposes of the first fighter, but the second veers off and runs towards the guns of the assembled Kilrathi fleet. Undaunted, she gives chase, ignoring Maverick's repeated orders for her to disengage. Payback launches a spread of torpedoes that destroys one of the Kilrathi destroyers, but a flight of Grikath led by Garahl cut her off from the node and cripple her craft, forcing her to eject. Payback defiantly dares the Kilrathi to kill her, but Garahl decides to take her prisoner instead. As he prepares to pick up her pod, Maverick's Broadsword tears into the Kilrathi flight, temporarily disabling Gharal's fighter. In the ensuing chaos, Maverick manages to secure Payback's pod to the underside of his ship and runs back towards the pulsar.

A wing of Sartha move in to cut Maverick off from the node. Payback begs him to drop her pod so that he'll have a better chance, but Maverick will hear nothing of it, and scatters the Sartha with a time-delayed torpedo salvo. The fighters snipe at the escaping Broadsword, catching the bomber on its wing as it enters the node.

In the relative safety of jumpspace, Payback boards Maverick's Broadsword. Her earlier bravado seems to have vanished as Maverick angrily chews her out for disobeying both him and Tolwyn. Payback remarks that if Maverick tells Tolwyn what happened, she'll wash out of the Academy. "I know," Blair responds grimly.

Garahl and the Captain of the Ras Nik'rha report to Prince Thrakhath aboard his flagship, the Agon ra Sivar. The Prince expresses his pleasure with Garahl's performance in the recent battle, despite the defeat, and promotes him to Captain of the Ras Nik'hra. The Ras Nik'hra's current Captain objects, only to be cut off by an angry tirade from Thrakkath over officers who fail and survive. The sullen commander departs, to "redeem his honor."

Meanwhile, Blair reports to Price that the last hit from the enemy Sartha at the jump node took out the bomber's life support, and that the air left in her pod is all they have left.

Three hours in, the air aboard Blair's Broadsword is running scarce. Barely conscious, Price brokenly recounts why she joined the military―a runaway from Icarus Colony, she learned to fly ore shuttles. On her first trip home in years, the Kilrathi attacked Icarus, leaving no survivors. When she saw the destroyers on the other side, she thought one of them might have been the one that destroyed her home. Blair relates his story: a soldier from a family of soldiers, with a tradition of honor and service to maintain; how there had even been a General Blair in the civil war.

"Which civil war?" Payback asks.

Maverick chuckles. "All of them."

The bomber finally emerges from jumpspace, but with no sign of the Claw or anything else. Payback collapses, unconscious.

Some distance away, the Claw is, indeed, there, powered down and hidden from sensor range. With neither life support telemetry nor communications from Maverick's Broadsword, Tolwyn opts to keep radio silence, pointing out that the loss of one ship means enemy contact. As he explains to Gunther, "A pilot is expendable. We all are. That's what it means to be a soldier."

As part of the Claw's strike group, Maniac watches Blair's disabled ship helplessly, barely being talked out of a solo rescue attempt by Archer. He muses gloomily about how he wanted to beat Maverick, but not like this.

Tolwyn's suspicions prove correct as a flight of Dralthi emerge from the node, the Ras Nik'hra's ex-captain in the van. He locks on to Maverick's bomber, only to be ripped apart as the Claw's fighters tear into the Kilrathi wing. As the battle moves away, a lone Dralthi breaks off from the main group and makes a run on Blair's Broadsword.

Barely conscious from lack of oxygen, Blair sees his father in a vision―proud and firm, dressed in officer's uniform. His father tells Blair him to wake up, that if he dies, forty generations of Blairs die with him. The father-vision extends his hand to Blair, who tries to reach, but collapses. His hand falls on the bomber's control panel, firing a missile right into the attacking Dralthi, destroying it. Seeing this, Maniac veers away from the main force, which has the Kilrathi in rout, and tractors the Broadsword back to the Claw.

As Price and Blair recover in sickbay, Blair jokes to Marshall that he must have been hallucinating badly―first his father talking, and then Maniac rescuing him. Their reverie is cut short by Commodore Tolwyn, who wants a report on what happened on the other side of the node. Price starts to speak up, but Blair cuts her off, recounting that they were ambushed by the Kilrathi and Payback lost her bomber as they tried to break through, omitting how she broke off to attack the Kilrathi fleet even as Blair was ready to jump back. A frankly sceptical Tolwyn reminds Blair of the penalty for lying to a commanding officer.

"I'm a Blair, sir," Maverick replies. "The Blairs never lie."