Whether I liked the people I was with or not, however, it was time to practice. Brain Gang ran us through multiple scenarios and exercises, and we were okay if not brilliant. They were all based on the assumption that we had to hold off invading aliens long enough to evacuate and blow up the base. In short, we’d already lost, and it was now a question of how we’d deal with it.
At least that was my take. Basically, it was Star Trek’s Kobayashi Maru exercise but with specific orders on how we were handle the problem.
So far as I could tell, our orders required us to die a lot, but at least we won most of the time–assuming your definition of winning didn’t necessarily include personal survival.
The last exercise didn’t even go that well.
It was 4:37 pm. Brain Gang stood on the hovering platform again, and everyone stood outside the shipyard.
Brain Gang held up a communicator in his hand, clicked a button, and his amplified voice broadcast from the platform. “We’ve reached the last scenario of the day. It will be much like the others you’ve faced. As with the previous exercise, we’ll be imagining that a small fleet of aliens faced off with Earth’s ships. Unlike with the last exercise, we’ll assume that our ships were destroyed and several of the alien ships got through. You’ll see one at first, and know that more could appear at any time.
“As with the last few scenarios, you’ll need to remember to be careful with the practice drones. They’re expensive to replace, and you broke twenty of them in the last exercise. We understand that it’s easy to forget they’re not the real thing in the middle of a fight, but try to. Let’s start. Take your positions.”
Everyone ran or flew. My unit took our position directly on top of the building that held the shipyard. Others stood next to or inside the buildings around the shipyard. Some filed into the shipyard building itself.
In the sky, a long, wedge shaped ship appeared. Hundreds of round ships, much like our podjets exited it, spreading out into a thin formation that was wide enough to cover the entire shipyard and the surrounding buildings.
It wasn’t a terrible way to go. The podjets acted as a barrier against going for the main ship, and allowed all the podjets to fire on us. It wasn’t the best formation either, but I could imagine they might be going a little easy on us in training.
When they all started firing, it didn’t seem like they were going easy on us at all. It felt like a hail of light. Brittany and Briana turned to face each other, creating a wide, white shield that shimmered in the air above us, covering the entire building. It would have been more impressive if I hadn’t seen them do it ten times that day already.
At the same time, the podjets came under attack from pretty much everybody who had a ranged attack, and we’d been getting better over the day. Winds blew the podjets toward the east side of the shipyard. By itself, that wouldn’t have been enough, but Sean concentrated, sending podjets that had been resisting the wind alone hurtling after the rest.
The effect reminded me of billiard balls. The podjets flew east, bouncing off each other, the ground, and buildings. Generally though, they flew along the same path, passing between two of the buildings that surrounded the shipyard. While they did, everyone else opened up on them. Izzy hit them with a scream vastly more powerful than anything I could generate with my sonics. At the same time, blasts of plasma, fire, ice, and lasers hit too.
Of the hundreds of podjets that originally exited the ship, barely ten survived. It was amazing.
It made me wonder if they’d made a mistake while designing the scenario–or possibly the practice drones. From what I understood, the drones were fairly tough hologram projectors, but they weren’t very big. Sean and Vaughn could easily be having an easier time with them than they would with actual alien spacecraft.
Before anybody had time to comment on how easy it had been, two more wedge shaped ships swooped out of the clouds. Even more podjets launched, tripling the number that had originally been in the air. Worse, more ships followed. These were about as wide as semi-truck, and not exceptionally tall. As they neared the ground, beings in powered armor jumped out, landing unharmed in the street–hundreds of them.
Stapledon students attacked, some from a distance, others hand to hand.
Patriot Jr. saw the mass of people fighting, and said, “We’ve got to get down there! Everyone but the Power and Storm King, follow me. You guys take out the ships. Bring them down however you can!”
Sean and Vaughn gave each other a look. I didn’t have time to see more. Patriot Jr. leapt into the air, and we followed.
I had a bad feeling about it. At a gut level, taking the group of the most mobile, least vulnerable fighters and making them just another group in a massive combat, giving them no goal other than “help our side” seemed dumb. I couldn’t put it into words by the time Patriot Jr. took off though.
Besides, the moment you go into combat probably isn’t the time to start an argument with your commanding officer–even if you’re pretty sure his grasp of strategy and tactics is worse than yours.
To make a long story short, we died. Not literally, of course.
The Stapledon drones had some way to calculate how much “damage” you’d taken from holographic attacks. I don’t know how well it corresponded to our actual ability to take damage, but it didn’t matter. I was completely willing to accept the possibility that if we charged into battle while hundreds of podjets targeted us, we’d all probably die.
Patriot Jr. wasn’t quite as relaxed about the whole thing, shouting, “I can take more than that!” as his armband told him to, “Land. You’ve been terminated.”
That wasn’t the best part though.
Above us, two of the big ships were out of control. Careening toward each other, they hit with a remarkably realistic shriek of metal. One smashed into our dorm.
The other rolled over us and then into the mass combat we’d been flying toward.
Do I need to say that ultimately we did not manage to evacuate and destroy the shipyard?