Vanguard of the LOP, Episode #1: The Pilot: A League of Planets Serial Series (Vanguard of the LOP Serial Series), page 1
Lieutenant Sasha Green's personal log: #1
May 20th, 2365
Well, I guess I should get my first log out of the way. Doing one log a week shouldn't be too much of a hassle, but I'm not sure the use of it. “'To reflect on your objectives and goals. Possibly look back and see a pattern of growth.’” Captain Jack would say. I never have met such an analytical yet caring soldier. I wouldn't be nearly as far in life without his guidance. Guidance I wouldn't have received anywhere else, had I not joined up with him and the LOP. It gives me something to do other than lay here watching grainy, oak-shaded sand pelt the few windows in the embassy.
The Castille embassy is as usual ever-so solitary. Castille, being such a prosperous, desert-laden land, can afford such luxuries. Whereas a planet like Breoul, has us head to toe in our sleeping arrangements: four people to a room, which is double our room plan. Iridescent crystal viewing monitors, heated glass tiled floors, and golden-silk stitched beds are standard here. It's more than enough to keep me comfortable; much better accommodations than most places I've strained myself to lose consciousness in. I can't say the same for Zorann, my usual bunkmate on the Scimitar. She never can keep the sand out of her clothes and the silk irritates the hell out of her skin; I always feel for her on Castille.
Three months have passed since the Vanguard was assembled and one week since I was appointed third-in-command of the Vanguard of the LOP. For today, it's all about the new pilot finally joining us: Zimmerman. After graduating from the LOP's specialist air infantry academy, he requested three months off to sharpen up his skills and stay with his family, here on his home planet of Castille. Zimmerman may have graduated three months ago, but Captain Jack had his eye on him since he joined the academy.
Captain Jack always told me the Vanguard wasn't his idea. I believe it was. Or, at least, he had some part in the creation of the group. Over the years, I've pondered whether joining up with the LOP was my smartest choice. So far, it's been a great decision. I'm not sure whether it was my best, but I've grown into a stronger and better person because of it. Being third-in-command of a LOP special ops unit in its first generation. That's gotta count for something.
Rash decisions and outbursts of anger have always been my main issue, and now that I'm in a command position I simply can't let my detrimental behavior continue. Hopefully, Zimmerman isn't a snotty little brat, eh, maybe I shouldn't even speak like that. it seems like a very likely possibility, but, I'll try to keep my composure an—
Captain Jack's rugged voice echoed over the intercom conveniently placed in the corner crevice above Sasha's bed:
“Sasha, it's time to meet with Zimmerman, come to the ship, ASAP.”
Well, that'll be it for now,
The ever-growing sand pile turned to silt upon Sasha’s back. She gave up brushing off the sand about five minutes ago, when looming precipitation turned from a small mist to an even light downpour, all across the humid crimson-shaded desert. Fifteen minutes passed since perching herself upon a lonely plateau. Reaching far above and invisible from her prey, the location was perfect to call shots for Zimmerman; or Zim, as he implored the crew to call him earlier in the day. A tall plateau was also a perfect place to test and gauge her progress training with Zorann. If only Zim was anywhere to be seen.
Five minutes, the estimated time it would take for Zim to take out the two flyers. Over ten minutes was unacceptable, without her being drenched. Sasha’s slate grey uniform turned a dark, navy blue shade on her backside; no doubt the front would be soiled. She'd make Zimmerman wash her uniform, if the cleaning process wasn't such a simple and automated task aboard the ship. She couldn't keep simply sitting idly by while watching a squadron of soldiers advance upon Commander Akeihl. She could take her chosen three soldiers out, try to, at least, most likely resulting in alerting the twenty or so group of soldiers nearing them.
Setting up her aim for the middle of the three man group, Sasha leaned in and started to hold her breath . . .
“What you expect to do there, think they'll be surprised and shoot themselves?” Captain Jack's voice soothingly rung through her ear.
“Worth a shot. Better than letting them get to Akeihl, if Zim wants to joy ride around some more, it'll just make it more interesting for me.” Sasha retorted.
“Sasha, this isn't the time for a free for all, or the point. Pal, do you have Zimmerman’s location?”
“Pal probably has no clue of Zim’s location. why would something so routine be such a problem for a prodigy like him?” Sasha took her eye off her scope, continuing to curl her finger ever slightly while hugging the trigger.
“You're correct, Sasha, I have no clue, but I can find out.” Pal spoke over their collective ear pieces.”
Just as Pal started to elaborate, Sasha glanced toward the setting sky,
“That's enough, Pal, I can see him.”
“At least let the prodigy finish his analysis, if it be such a routine process,” Pal droned on.
“You know I wasn't talking about you, Pal, but maybe keep a better eye on what's going on.”
Zim’s cruiser flew overhead. Spiraling through the air, one lone enemy ship wasn’t far behind. The remaining cruiser, ember ridden, and filling the sky with a layer of shadow-like smog didn't look to have much life left. Even with the myriad of maneuvers each were pulling in their sight, she couldn't see Zim having too many moves left. Focusing in on Zim, his cruiser started taking an angled dive towards the larger squadron of men; as he dove, the cruiser followed. Not more than about ten feet from the ground, Zim swooped up, catapulting himself back into his residing aerial territory.
Sasha watched the cruiser miserably attempt to pull up, while nearly launching itself fully horizontal, then colliding and decimating the large squadron of soldiers. Observing Zim’s technique in contrast to the enemy cruiser, the control and knowledge of his reduction in acceleration was key. The cruiser had no clue of Zim’s plan, and abruptly jerked downwards instead of descending smoothly. The pilot lacked having the Castille natives heightened senses: something of legend. Impact eviscerated any sign of life or a ship, leaving a burning, few meters wide dent in the surface. If there was any way the group of three didn't know they were there, they did now, Sasha thought to herself.
With the large squadron utterly obliterated before her eyes by the cascading enemy ship, now it was her turn to make her move. The three men surrounding Commander Akeihl started to cut off his mask, while Zim faded into the distance. Placing herself back in a prone position on the plateau, Sasha aimed once again, zooming in on the middle of the remaining trio. Through her scope, Akeihl’s brazen face, marks scrawled up and down his Pale neck, was patterned by the slick edges of the mask. Two men would have been ideal, and three would be a stretch, but she prepared for an interesting yet high-stakes affair. Reaching for the trigger on her jet black rifle, Sasha rapidly tapped the trigger sending three amethyst-tinted plasma shots hurling towards the group. The middle soldier would be no worry, they’re never the problem; the problem lied in curving multiple shots in opposite directions. If she could learn to bend a beam of energy, Sasha was confident she'd be able to surpass at least two. Any attempt so far hadn't turned out so well. Case in point, a few of the holes found in the interior of the LOP’s main training facility; not her finest moment, though everyone has to start somewhere. Trying to keep calm, while continuing focused conscious mental awareness of
Striking two out of three men, the middle and right soldiers tumbled out of view. the remaining soldier turned around and watched the stray beam whip past their face. Reaching for Akeihl, the soldier raised him up in front of him, now shielding him from any shots Sasha may have had left. Sasha watched the soldier raise up an ebony shaded dagger: jagged and embroidered with a crimson streak of dried iron, he raised it to Akeihl’s throat. Just as the blade caressed Akeihl’s silk, sweat covered neck, the soldier vanished into the damp Castille atmosphere, leaving the dagger to drop a short distance, and then disappearing, as it hit a nearby sand pocket. Sasha could finally see Akeihl’s face. She felt inconvenienced from the length of the exercise, but Akeihl wasn't pleased to participate in the first place; especially, considering he was tied up, waiting to be rescued by the new pilot and his third in command. She, being a step below his rank of second in command of the Scimitar didn't help matters.
Before Sasha could get up, Captain Jack was right next to her. He stooped down to help her by the arm.
“Could have went worse. I reckon you'll get those shots down soon. Two controlled shots in three months under Zorann’s tutelage, seems to have been a worthwhile venture for you.”
“You seem to be thrilled with our performance. It was easily the most action we’ve had so far. Much more dangerous than guarding Akeihl’s niece. There's been no challenge.” She couldn’t help looking at the ground.
“You're disappointed, I know. There isn't anything for you to feel sorry about. The mission went awry, these things happen; it's how you conduct yourself when the playing field changes. Don't beat yourself up, there's no failure in simulations, only the loss of ignorance to improper tactics. Could you say you were fully focused when you took the shot?”
“The two outside shots were my focus. What else would I be thinking about?”
“Maybe about someone else. How Zim was responsible for the mission taking added time, perhaps? You almost shot out of anger, had I not chimed in. Might I remind you.” Jack flashed a quick grin.
He was right: she couldn't help recalling numerous situations since joining the Vanguard where he had stopped her from acting irrationally. She let her temper get the better of her in the past, but the Vanguard expected better. They needed better. Just as Sasha rose her head to agree and leave with Jack, Commander Akeihl reached them upon the plateau.
“Damn sand. The waters of Aurieal would ravage this land.” Akeihl’s clothes were even dirtier than Sasha’s, so she could only imagine how clean and pristine Zim’s uniform would be.
“Guess Zorann isn't the only one bothered by the Castille conditions. i’ll count myself lucky on that one.” She was surprised he hadn't slid in a snide comment with his first statement. Akeihl had never shied away from exerting his opinions since joining the Vanguard, and she often was subject to a lashing of his ideal standards; something Sasha was used to, considering the LOP and the Vanguard in particular we’re built for calculated results.
“I'd be happy to never come to this desolate planet again, yet, it’s LOP favoring deems Castille’s barren land an usual stop.” Akeihl continued squinting his eyes, while desperately trying to rid the remaining sand from his sockets.
“Talk to your family, I'm sure the LOP would love to make headway on your water-laden planet,” Jack shot another half grin toward Akeihl. Turning around, Jack started heading back toward the embassy. All three knew more headway wasn't going to happen. Sasha had learned all too well, even before becoming a commanding officer, Akeihl’s third-in-line heritage meant nothing to Aurieal’s Royal Council. Even if it did, he shared a similar opinion: being part of the LOP meant an alliance, but they didn't want them too close. Akeihl indicated no clues why, at least, yet, their motivations for thinking this way; but Sasha was determined to find out one way or another.
Once reaching the embassy, each went their separate way to their quarters. Considering the moist and dusty uniforms clinging to the threes’ sweaty skin, Jack gave them an hour to freshen up before meeting with the rest of the crew. Steamy streams flowed over Sasha’s body, ridding her of stale sand collected on her hair and extremities leached from the harsh Castille beating. She couldn't help still feeling a bit annoyed with Zim as it only started raining a few minutes after the expected completion time. Even with the constant jet of near-scalding liquid, scrubbing her face mildly irritated her skin; she couldn’t get away from annoyance of Castille’s visit either. Her sIick violet skin shone bright, before slipping on her fitting uniform. She'd often find herself wearing it even off-duty. Sleek design, comfortable, and complementing her similar sharp grey eyes, a sense of pride surrounded her when wearing it in public. The attention stemming from her uniform was mostly positive; not many situations escalated once they realized there were usually quite a few more of her friends around. Without her friends around, there wouldn't be a problem, but Jack ingrained in her to hold her hand. She wouldn't forget his lesson, especially because ‘hold her hand’ made no sense to her, when she first met him. It made more and more sense to her over the years; there was power in hiding your true abilities over casually flaunting them. She was grateful the LOP allowed her the opportunity to learn to trust and hold her hand.
Trudging up the grainy mound path, Akeihl’s tall, lanky, paste white frame was the first thing she set eyes on. In contrast to Captain Jack, who's tan and chiseled compact physique made him resemble a Castille native, she always thought. Zim standing next to them further cemented the connection; he was a few inches shorter than Commander Akeihl, yet about a half a foot taller than Captain Jack. She pondered how he would fit in, what he thought of his performance, if he was going to be a cocky member. The Vanguard didn't need ego. All of them knew that. From the day she joined the LOP, orders were orders, success of the mission supersedes and guides team actions. No matter whom you are. Approaching the encased launch pad, she could hear echoes of their voices up ahead as she reached the group.
“I honestly couldn't shake ‘em, it was unusual. I didn't intend on taking so long, but had they been true opposition, I don't know if I would have made it.” Zim's face was nearly clean, and now a fine shade of red.
“I turned up the simulation level to nine before we got started today. I remembered you saying you easily could handle level six, so, I wanted to test you. Handled yourself pretty nicely, and that second enemy ‘craft, I'd like to see the look on a pilot’s face, trying to pull off that shit you did today.” Jack didn't often bare a full smile, maybe a sly grin, but he was repeating a similar behavior from when first meeting Sasha; she wondered if any of the other crew had noticed his excessive use of those shining whites when they met him.
“No way, nine? I've never completed eight, not even close.” Zim’s face instantly shaped up and curled from a small frown to a wide-eyed smile.
“You had something to prove, and that's what the Vanguard is about. We need stellar performances, day-in and day-out. It gives me greater trust in you being the chosen pilot for this team. I did choose correctly, didn't I?” Jack exclaimed, while reaching his worn yet rigid hand outwards towards Zim.
“Yes, yes you did, sir.” Zim’s hand met Jack’s with Jack taking the lead, giving him a proper and tight LOP handshake. Before letting go of Jack’s hand, Sasha eyed Zim jerk his body towards her, twisting Jack alongside him. Letting go of Jack’s hand he readily saluted her.
“Lieutenant Green, I didn't even notice you arrive, I’m very sorry. Got caught up in the moment.” Zim stood still at attention, waiting for his commanding officer's word.
“Zim, we talked about this earlier, just call me Sasha. I don't need everyone's’ salute, it'll just waste time.” She swore she brought it up earlier. It wasn't a huge deal, as long as he didn't keep running around saluting her. Perfect way to get picked off, also. luckily, she would be working with experienced, trained specialist with even more experience than her; he shouldn't find himself out i
“My bad, did the same thing with the Captain. You'd have me fooled we were still apart of the LOP. If I get used to it this way, I might mess up in front of command.”
“At least lose the salute around us. Captain or Jack is fine, lot less redundant. I don't think command will find themselves around you too much; I like to keep my pilots in the cockpit, ready to jet at a moment's notice.” Jack clasped his hand on Zim’s shoulder, “I’d like to think a crew who feels their commanding officers are just another cog in the machine will be much more successful. There'll be other planetary formalities we’ll have to abide by, no reason to be strict amongst ourselves.”
“Well, I'll count myself lucky you chose me for the Vanguard. Never was looking forward to piloting a slow, two-thousand plus crew around, while being constantly chewed out by a stodgy commander. I don't think I would’ve lasted too long as a LOP pilot. Excited to be here, Captain.”
“The LOP has a set way in how they want to operate. Partly, due to the fact we are responsible for many diverse planets’ well-being. Our work here is as militaristic as it’s political. If there weren't strict and stodgy admirals runnin’ around, commanding and making the rules, we'd be out of business. Hell, I’d reckon quite a few of those admirals never wanted this to happen.” Laughing, Jack started walking back towards the loading bay where the Scimitar and the rest of the crew were waiting.
“Commander or Commander Akeihl is fine for me.” Akeihl interjected, following Jack’s lead. She expected him to speak up earlier. It was an unusually short order from him.
“Oh yeah, of course, I got that. You’re still, different.” She watched as Zim’s face yet again drooped, reflecting his annoyance on his vocal missteps.
“Before you go apologizing, I know. I'm not LOP, it's understandable. Just keep track of the piloting. can't ask much else”
“Sounds good, Commander.” Relief painted Zim’s face again as they finally reached the ship.
“Pal, could you bring down the docking bay?” Said Sasha.