Pascal was in the virt-sim looking at the terrain aware that Willem would appear soon enough and begin the test. After years of Willem’s training, Pascal had a good idea of Willem’s strengths and weaknesses. Knowing Willem’s weaknesses were no advantage since, as Pascal remembered, Willem’s speed, even when a weakness was exploited, was sufficient to parry any blow that Pascal could attempt.
For his part, Willem knew Pascal’s qualities. Although he was not particularly quick, he was a natural positional fighter and was extremely strong given his smaller stature. In combat, Pascal would rely on his ability to position himself to achieve the maximum strength he could muster for defense or for landing a blow. Willem had once or twice misjudged this strength while training his young friend and paid for it as dearly as any teacher had ever paid for misjudging a student.
Pascal had one other quality that Willem respected and had not seen in most of the other acolytes he had trained. No matter what the situation, no matter how dire, he never ever lost his head. Those around him could always rely on him to be constantly assessing the situation and to be able to give sensible advice. He wasn’t the type to choose a suicidal charge when faced with overwhelming odds. Back off, find a better position, then come at the opponent again.
In the first scenario Pascal found himself on a Raslavon Corsair fighter. Their odd pointed shape with the long laser cannon on the tip and six wings led them to be called “Skeeters” short for “Mosquitoes." These were small two man crafts used for short range attacks or close support of large transport vessels. They tended to fight in swarms and had relied on guidance systems that could see the waste and emissions from an enemy craft even when cloaked.
Pascal had fighter training and was a good shot no matter whether the weapon was buckshot or a laser cannon. Pascal’s virtual pilot led him near an enemy dreadnought class vessel. Immediately they encountered a hail of fire from the vessel. Suddenly from above he could see a squadron of Barsifi Telk fighters. As his virt-pilot avoided the transport’s fire he began to focus his attention on the Telk fighters looking for the control vessel.
The Barsifi Telk was a snub-nosed fighter mounted with twin cannons on each winglet. The Barsifi fleet was deployed in such a way that the control Telk, known as the “Queen” would readjust the flight path of all the drone vessels as the situation in the battle changed. Pilots on these fighters had some level of tactical control, but overall direction and deployment was done from the rear in the control vessel. If Pascal could discern the Queen, he could disable the strategic control of the drones and make a run for the Barsifi Transport.
The tell tale sign of the Queen was that it moved behind the main battle formation from squadron to squadron. This allowed the commander to assess the situation from any point. In order to figure out where the Queen was, the normal procedure was to deploy certain fighters to seek it out without getting enmeshed in the main battle. This was usually done by flanking the main battle from any direction - up, down, left or right - and using both visual and sensor path assessments.
Of course the Barsifi knew this and created decoys for the Queen. Shoot a decoy and that seeker fighter was now vulnerable as a target since the Queen would sense the disruption of its own protection. It was a highly effective offense and defense.
Pascal concentrated on the movement of several of the rear vessels and he saw his quarry. In his sensor he noticed the movement of each squadron when a certain vessel was behind them. He continued to track that vessel and compare the movements of the squadrons when that Queen was not in the area. A sudden shift of a squadron near the lower right center of the battle formation tipped him off that the Queen was near them. He tracked a vessel leaving that formation and began to stalk it.
Suddenly his own virt-pilot had trouble. Their recon mission was detected and they were under attack. After several maneuvers to avoid being hit, a bright light lit up the forward cabin of Pascal’s skeeter. Pascal checked his sensors and noted that his pilot was hit and control was being rerouted to his panel.
Trying to keep his cool he put the vessel into a quick reverse, a maneuver unique to the skeeter. It could reverse its thrusters without changing its attitude. The engineers of the Barsifi and Darjiki fleets had some very sophisticated equipment in the fleet of fighters, but the Raslavon Corsair was unique in its maneuverability in close combat. These quick moves required pilots and gunners that had the greatest ability to withstand the g-forces that were generated by the vessel’s ability.
Willem, controlling the Barsifi fleet through the Queen, noticed Pascal’s movement and smiled. “Well, my young friend, you have detected me, taken your hit, kept control of the vessel and now are in the enviable position of destroying the attack squadron I sent after you and exposing the Queen. I consider this test a success. I know few people who would have made that move successfully from the gunner position of a Skeeter.”
“So I passed?”
“This round, yes.”
The next round was a ground combat sequence. Pascal found himself on a troop transport with many men. He looked about and saw that this scenario put him in the midst of an Albion attack on a Darjiki outpost planet. He looked at his virtual uniform and saw that he was wearing the insignia of an Albion platoon commander. He could see his orders on his Comm-Pad. “Vessel will land in a large gorge in a forest. You will lead your troops up the gorge to its lip. From there you should be behind enemy encampment. Your mission is to reduce the enemy so that it is no longer a threat for the rest of the landing fleet.”
Pascal read the order and keyed in “Tactical assessment enemy." The Comm-Pad lit up with pictures of the encampment, and several large objects denoted with a question mark, meaning that it was unknown what they were from reconnaissance. Pascal read this with concern. That was the trick, those unknown objects could be weapons that could be used against his men.
The ship landed, Pascal got his troops set up outside the ship and they began to climb the side of the gorge. It seems that this virtual enemy had no one in the gorge protecting its rear. As they approached the lip of the gorge, Pascal came up and began to assess the situation. Immediately, he saw the perimeter of the encampment.
Beyond the shield generators were rows of buildings in a circular arrangements, like the spokes of a wheel. He looked back at his Comm-Pad tactical assessment. He knew that to disable this enemy he needed to get to the hub of the camp, but that’s exactly where the unknown objects were. He called his commanders together and explained his plan. “Gentlemen, we’ll break up into four squads. Gold squad will go for the Shield-Gen on this side. Once we’ve breached the shield, the other three squads will go through at these three points, Red on the Left, Blue in the Center, Orange on the Right.”
One commander asked, “What about the Gold during the attack, sir?”
“Gold will remain behind to protect our rear. I don’t want to attack and find out that we have no escape.”
“Gentlemen, we’ll start the attack in,” he looked at his Comm-Pad, “Eight minutes. Return to your troops.”
Pascal joined the troops at the left end of the deployment. The terrain on this side was wooded but slightly elevated. He could look down on the camp while the attack was underway.
At first things went flawlessly. The Shield Gen came down three minutes after the movement started. As soon as the shield came down the three squads began their movement into the camp. It was strangely quiet for a moment and Pascal’s sense of concern was aroused. It was is quiet. Why didn’t they noticed the shield was down? Pascal contacted his Orange squad commander, “Orange command, lay back for a moment while Blue squad attacks and assesses the situation.”
His concern was not unfounded. Just as the last syllable left his mouth, he heard the unmistakable sound of air support coming from behind his position. He contacted the Gold squad commander, “Find cover and shoot anything that comes out of the sky. Evidently the enemy knew we were coming.”
Pascal had been lured into a trap. Quickly scanning the terrain from his elevated position he noted that his center position was completely exposed. Center would be much safer if they were inside the spokes of the camp. “Blue command, attack with all speed, Orange command fall in behind Blue and pull left so you’ll be our new center.”
This was an old trick Willem had shown him. He called it a “stunt." He’d have the center draw fire and double his strength on this side. As he saw the troops run by he ordered his troops to come straight down from the elevated position. Just at this point he heard the fire from his fourth squad.
“Captain, they are strafing us right now and it’s hard for us to get a lock and hold to knock them out of the sky.”
“Keep them engaged as best as you can. The longer they are there, the less likely they’ll be able to help over here.”
Pascal ran down the grade and into the camp behind his men. Several of the buildings were now burning and gun battles were raging on both sides of the spoke. Pascal ran up and past the third building so he could see the unknown objects. These were land based laser cannon. Odd, he thought. Odd that they didn’t use this against the transport ship.
Blue command hailed Pascal. “Captain, the right side of the spoke has been disabled from our angle.”
At this point the Orange squad had swept up and met with his Red squad and were running up opposite side of the spoke as the center team.
Pascal and his Red commander reached the Laser Cannon and placed charges on it. They were drawing fire from many sides but their field gens seem to be holding up. Suddenly, almost as if they arose from holes in the ground, Darjiki troops appear with the guns firing and swords swinging. “Red command, continue placing the charges and blow up the cannon as soon as you was ready. I’ll cover you.”
A Darjiki soldier appeared on Pascal’s left side and was dismissed with one shot from his left hand. A second appeared right behind him, apparently unaffected by his comrade’s demise. Pascal got off a shot but this fellow was quick and rolled left and sprung forward lunging at Pascal with his sword. As their swords crashed together Pascal noted, lower body quickness, upper body strength but slower than his feet would suggest.
His opponent lunged at him again and Pascal parried the blow, feeling the man’s strength and allowing himself to be shoved aside by a sideways slash. In this way he hoped to goad his enemy into an open attack, which he obliged. Pascal, falling back, kicked hard into the man’s field gen clip. Evidently even his virt-sim opponent was surprised by this move. It did not damage the field, but stopped the man long enough for Pascal to draw his gun and get off a point blank shot at the man’s chest.
The effect of this was to knock the man backwards and give Pascal just enough time to send a sword-stroke into his belly. The sword seemed to stick and Pascal quickly shot him again this time in the head. Pascal then turned to look back at Red commander who had finished placing the charges. Pascal radioed his three commanders, “Everyone fall back, charges set.”
When they had retreated to the position of Gold team, he spoke again. “Spread your squads out to a safe distance.” When they had accomplished this he said, “OK, blow it up.”
“Very Good, Pascal” said Willem’s voice in the midst of the din of the virtual explosion, “Just one more scenario, you’ll be on the defensive now.”