The next day in the courtyard of the student barracks, the student pilots and Sizzos celebrated passing the halfway mark of the course with a barbecue. Sunspot, Kickstart, Tick-tock, and another Sizzo who went by the callsign "High-Speed" played a pickup game of volleyball in the sand pit between the beige permacrete buildings.
Berserker manned the giant charcoal grill covered with Terran hamburgers, Andorian kilm steaks, and Vulcan plomeek roots. As the felinoid flipped the grilling vegetables and sizzling meats, he wiped his paws on his white apron that read, "PET THE COOK" in giant cartoonish letters.
Phil and Overdrive were both in t-shirts, board shorts, and aviator sunglasses. They walked up to the picnic table buffet and started piling food onto their paper plates.
"Hey Chef," Overdrive called over to Berserker as he held up a hamburger patty. "Are you serving anything today not covered in cat hair?"
"Why don't you come over here and say that, pipsqueak?" Berserker said waving his spatula back at the grinning human. Phil chuckled as he reached into a bag and pulled out a handful of potato chips. "Whoah, whoah," Berserker said before reaching over and placing an entire kilm steak onto Phil's plate. "You need a victory meal. After all, you took down the old king of this place, so you need to eat like the new one!"
"I appreciate it," Phil said back into Berserker's grinning fangs, "but I don't think I can finish all this."
"Come on," Berserker said flashing his fur covered muscular arms, "you can't get big eating like a puny human."
"Appreciate it, B," Phil laughed before moving over to the condiments.
"Hey, can I get a kilm steak?" Overdrive asked a bit miffed.
"Nope," Berserker said walking back behind the grill. "Since you like to criticize, you can stick with my burgers." He chucked another patty right onto Overdrive's plate from three meters away. "Order up! I held the hair on that one just for you."
"Thanks, B…" Overdrive muttered before heading over to Phil.
The two men reached into a garbage can filled with ice and cans of cheap beer. After selecting their beverages, Overdrive motioned from them to grab a seat in the shade. Phil suddenly got a disappointed look on his face as he looked around at the twenty-four other aviator teams enjoying themselves on this gorgeous, sunny afternoon. The twenty-fifth team in the class was nowhere to be seen.
"They're still in the simulator," Overdrive guessed that Phil finally noticed Quiet Riot was missing. "I don't think they're in the mood to party right now."
"I still feel bad about what happened," Phil mumbled as he followed Overdrive to an empty table.
"Why?" Overdrive asked while putting his burger patty into a bun with lettuce and tomato. "You didn't do anything wrong! They're the ones being pretentious little shits."
Phil rubbed his eyes.
"I just keep going over it again and again," he said. "I could have broken off and I could have let them take the shot. Instead, I hogged the spotlight for two seconds too long just because I didn't want to hear them brag. Luckily, we're not firing real micro-torps up there or else Quiet and Riot's families would be planning funerals right now."
"You can't think like that," Overdrive said shaking his head as he took a bite of burger. "Besides," he continued talking with his mouth full. "Everyone agrees with you, not them. You were in the one spot, it's your job to take the shot while they watch your ass. That's just the way it goes." Ground beef juice and ketchup dribbled down the sound of his mouth.
Phil grimaced a bit at Overdrive's vulgar manners. He grabbed a paper and napkin and handed it to his friend.
"Thanks," Overdrive replied finally wiping his mouth and hands. "Damn, that furball can sure grill a good burger," he added.
"I guess I'm just wondering," Phil continued, "would I fly that selfish if it was for real?"
"Isn't flying like its real kinda the point of this school?" Overdrive countered.
"So, I would let my wingmen die just to get a kill…" Phil said dropping his shoulders and taking a long sip of his beer.
"Dammit, Man," Overdrive said grabbing a potato chip from Phil's plate. "No one is dead, everyone is fine, and nobody here thinks you're the asshole in the situation. This ain't a starship bridge, Man. Sometimes you gotta strut a little bit! It's fine."
A huge C-989 Starmaster military cargo spacecraft roared overhead as it entered the lower atmosphere. The student aviators looked up at the slow moving grey fuselage as it dropped its gear, turned on its landing lights, and lined up on the runway.
Everyone squinted against the fading evening light to make out "STARFLEET" lettered across its hull right behind the cockpit and "SPACE MOBILITY COMMAND: BOLARUS" painted in black and gold across its stubby tail.
"Man," Phil muttered. "They are a long way from home."
"It's just the bi-monthly cargo run," Overdrive answered. "Every two weeks a Starmaster flies back and forth across the Federation and hits every Starfleet aviation station to drop off mail and new personnel."
"Guess I must have missed them last time," Phil said taking a bite from his kilm steak.
"Eh, they fly big birds, but you know those cargo pilots," Overdrive chuckled, "they're easy to miss. They scored well enough at the Academy to get their wings, but not well enough to be one of us."
"Hey Saber!" Sunspot called over from the volleyball court. "Before you took out Godfather, I was figuring you should be behind the stick of one of those things! Starmaster still not as fat as your battlestarship though."
The other pilots laughed before being drowned out by the sound of the cargo bird's wheels screeching against asphalt a little less than a kilometer away. Even though Phil knew it was just some good natured ribbing, it still was not want he wanted to hear right now.
"You know," Phil said putting his plastic cutlery back on his plate. "I think I'm gonna take this to go."
"Oh, C'mon, Man," Overdrive said. "Don't be like that. We still got a lot of beer and meat left."
"No, no," Phil said trying to keep a veneer of politeness. "I'm pretty tired. I think I'm just going to throw this in my mini stasis unit, call the wife, and then rack out with a movie or something. We got to hit it hard again tomorrow."
Phil grabbed his food and headed up to his barracks room.
"Saber!" Overdrive called out. "SABER!"
Phil ignored him as he started walking up the stairs.
"Oh well," Overdrive shrugged, "more beer for me."
Phil lay on his bed with a PADD. He had just dialed Katie for the third time. She wasn't picking up, however, he really needed her too. He just wanted to talk to someone about what happened that didn't have an ego the size of this planet. He considered dialing Daredevil, but he wasn't sure she fit the description.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the wooden door. Phil rolled his eyes and threw the PADD on his nightstand. He fully expected Overdrive, Kickstart, or Sunspot to be standing there with a shit-eating grin on their face. They would immediately strike with a verbal dig to his masculinity for leaving the party early.
"What do you wa…." Phil said throwing open the door and freezing solid.
"How ya doing, Saber?" Katie said standing there with an overnight bag on her shoulder.
"Oh my God," Phil said grabbing his wife and pulling her into his arms. They kissed there for a few glorious seconds before he pulled back. "What are you doing here?" he said smiling for the first time in days.
"I hope I'm not interrupting anything," she said looking around his quarters. "Sweet digs," she said with a chuckle. Phil wrapped her back up into his arms.
"I thought you were concerned that we can't handle being separated?" he said still smiling. "What happens when we face that five year mission?"
"We don't have to deal with that yet," she grinned back.
"Are you sure you're not a telepath?" he asked burying his face into her hair. "All I wanted to do was talk to you tonight."
"Something in the sound of your voice last call made me think you needed a little pick me up," she said throwing her bag next to the twin bed.
"Oh yes," he still holding onto her waist. She laughed.
"You can thank Annabeth for granting a four day liberty for me. Lady Blackjack is transiting across the UFP this week from Cardassia to the Neutral Zone. I was able to grab a Space A on the SMC cargo run, but I fly back out tomorrow morning. They're dropping me off on Coridan in time to meet the Pershing when she arrives in two days."
"All I need is one night…" Phil said pushing her back onto the bed. She laughed as they collapsed onto the old mattress's sagging springs.
"Oh Baby," she said still laughing. Phil cast a glance into her eyes, reached up, and gently wiped away a strand of hair from her face. "What is it?" she said concerned.
"Tell me that I'm a good person," he said softly. "Tell me that I'm not the kind of man who puts glory in front of what's right. Tell me that's the man you married…" he said trailing off.
"You're a good person," she replied placing a hand on his cheek. "You're not the kind of man who puts glory in front of what's right, and that's the man I married," she said softly. "That's you. What's going on?"
He collapsed down next to her and quickly filled her in on yesterday's events with Quiet Riot.
"Hey," Katie said leaning over and planting a kiss on his forehead. "Do you remember that time we were on the Pike together and you told me about what happened with the USS Avenger? You know, the whole thing that got you picked to come to the Pershing in the first place?"
"That's who you really are. All this bullshit," she said gesturing around the room and out towards the flight line, "this is just a game. If you wanna play, play. If not, don't give it a second thought. Just do what you gotta do to finish with pride."
Phil softly chuckled.
"What?" Katie asked resting her face against his pillow.
"I feel like I'm the one who gives you advice all the time. I'm really glad you're the one giving it this time."
Katie playfully smacked him on the shoulder.
"Well, Smartass, did my advice help?"
"Yeah," Phil said with a nod. "Yeah it did."
"Well, that didn't take long," Katie snickered. "What should we do for the rest of the evening?"
"I have a few ideas…" Phil said jumping up and rolling on top of her.