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After the graduation ceremony, the cadre held a reception for the newly minted "Master Flight Instructors." Now, they were no longer teachers and students. All the officers decked out in their dress whites and polished medals were now peers in the Corps of Aviators. Besides, this would probably be the last time all the classmates would ever be together again. The next morning, they would all be head back to their home squadrons.

A team of civilian Tellarite caterers had turned one of the maintenance hangers into a ballroom complete with decorations, hors d'oeuvres, and giant punch bowl filled with a strange and sugary concoction of fruit punch and cheap booze.

Quiet and Riot were the belles of the ball. Former students and instructors alike gathered around them as they held their giant trophy of a gilded, plastic T-Bat. The engraved plaque on the polished walnut base read:

LIEUTENANT KIMA "QUIET' VAACE

LIEUTENANT DASTRA "RIOT" REL

"THE BEST OF THE BEST"

STARFLEET FIGHTER WEAPONS SCHOOL CLASS 04-78

The pair was all smiles as they recounted the story of their last kill for the hundredth time in the last two days for everyone who would listen.

Kickstart, for his part, had finally calmed down after a few drinks and news from his home squadron. His commander had decided to promote him to full lieutenant when he arrived back on the USS Hikaru Sulu. It wasn't often that an officer as young as him went from alternate to graduate with honors at "Top Gun." The Sizzo had profusely thanked Phil and swore that, "this wouldn't have happened without you" despite the outcome of their final dogfight.

Phil had managed to sneak away from the crowd into a quiet corner of the hanger next to a T-Bat that was undergoing a maintenance overhaul. He nursed his plastic cup of pale ale and quietly marveled at the intricacies of the Rolls-Royce Merlin impulse engines currently pulled out of the fuselage and resting on giant jack-stands next to the fighter.

"I'm glad to see someone who can appreciate the inside as much as the outside," a voice sounded from behind him. Phil spun around and saw Godfather standing there in his whites. The captain was examining the EPS harness on the outside of the tritanium engine housing.

"Sir!" Phil said snapping his back straight to something resembling attention.

"Relax, Lexington," Godfather said with a chuckle. "I'm just here to have a conversation."

"Yes Sir…" Phil said unsure of what was going on. "He didn't know very much about Godfather, but he did know Captain Vaskin wasn't someone who enjoyed small-talk with people whom he significantly outranked.

"I told myself," Godfather continued as he placed a hand on the edge of the deuterium intakes into the fusion chamber, "that if I didn't make pilot, I would resign my commission and enlist as a flight mechanic. I would have done anything to stay close to them, even if it meant getting my hands dirty.

Starfighters aren't like any other spacecraft in the galaxy. They're even different than those giant tubs like the Pershing you sail around in. You don't live in a fighter. They don't haul around passengers or cargo. A fighter is your partner. It works together with its pilot to accomplish a goal."

"I think I understand that, Sir," Phil said with a nod.

"I'd say so, Saber," Godfather said. "I went back and pulled your Academy transcripts after it became obvious your reputation wasn't all hot air. You do realize that the commissioning board didn't appreciate you listing only 'Aviation." You're damn lucky they didn't throw your paperwork in the trash for that little stunt."

"It's what I felt I needed to be doing, Sir," Phil replied.

"You still feel that way?" Godfather asked raising an eyebrow.

"Yes Sir," Phil said confidently.

"Really…" Godfather grinned. "I know what you did, Son."

"Sir?" Phil said confused.

"Don't bullshit me, Lieutenant," Godfather said shaking his head. "I was watching both of you up there the whole time. When you and I went head to head, I was diving for that same asteroid field. You locked me up in a negative 3 'g" dive to port. With Quiet Riot over there you were only in a negative 2.5 'g' dive straight ahead. I've been doing this long enough to know that means you either lost a lot of skill in the last three weeks or you let them have it."

"Sir," Phil said as his gut went cold, "I can explain..."

"Explain what?" Godfather replied. "Explain how three years ago you took a job that most of your fellow fighter pilots would spit on because you thought it was a better way to serve? That instead of staying on that cushy starship, you put your doubts aside to come back here and face them? That while you were a student here, you not only forced your fellow crews to push themselves to the limit, but you also taught them new techniques to do it? Oh, and most of all, when you had a chance for easy personal glory, you put your own ego aside to give somebody else the spotlight? Do I have a clear picture of just who the hell Philip Lexington is or do you wanna correct me?"

Phil was speechless.

"Look around," Godfather said pointing to the crowd twenty meters away. "I got a hundred hotshot pilots who can fly the hell out of anything with thrusters. What I have a shortage of is leaders. And, Son," Godfather said looking him straight in the eyes, "you are a leader."

Phil still didn't know what to say.

"I don't give a shit what Annabeth Geist says," Godfather added. "There's an instructor position waiting for you here. Just give me a call when you're ready."

"Thank you," Phil said. All the trophies in the galaxy wouldn't have mattered more to him in this moment.

Godfather reached out his hand. Phil reached forward and shook it.

"Wait a second, Sir," Phil said suddenly putting two and two together. "You said 'leaders put their own ego aside to give others the spotlight.' Back in our dogfight, did you let me lock you up?"

Godfather smiled and laughed before walking away.

"Sir?" Phil asked slightly louder. Godfather ignored him as he strolled back towards the rest of the reception. "SIR!"


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