“Jorgen, are you ready?” my father asked, standing in the doorway to the parlor. He looked over my graduation uniform—admiring it I thought, but also searching for anything out of place.
“Yes,” I said. I stood in front of the glass case filled with my mother’s medals. She was one of the most decorated pilots the Defiant Defense Force had ever seen. At the center of the case was a pewter figure of a Sigo-class fighter—the ship my mother used to fly. As a kid I used to stand here and stare at that ship for hours, imagining what it would be like to be a pilot someday, fighting the Krell: all thrill and heroics and glory. I never took the figure out of the case—my mother would have killed me—but in my mind I flew in that ship to the stars and back.
I could see my reflection in the glass, my dress uniform crisp and fitted. After today, I’d be a full pilot.
“I hope you know how proud we are of you,” my father said. “So many cadets begin flight school, but graduating is a real accomplishment.”
My father was right. I’d started with what had to have been, in my estimation, the finest flight of pilots the DDF had ever seen. They were incredible people, every one of them. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.
And of all of us, only two remained. We’d lost some amazing people in the months of cadet training.
Rig, Bim, Morningtide, Nedder, Amphi, Quirk, Hurl.
We needed them, but none of them were graduating today, and the DDF was poorer for it.
That didn’t feel like an accomplishment. It felt like a tragedy—one that was mostly on me. What worth was I? A leader who couldn’t bring his team with him?
My mother came down the stairs in her own dress uniform. She wasn’t officiating, but she’d still be there in all her regalia. She crossed the room to the case and opened it, pulling down her medals and pinning them on. She looked up at me, taking in my uniform, though it didn’t feel like she was looking for imperfections the way it had with my father.
I felt like she was seeing herself.
“This is an important day,” she said. “You’ve done every bit as well as we hoped you would.”
“Thank you,” I said—because it was the right answer, not because I felt it. I’d earned the pilot’s pin more than I had the cadet’s one—that had been automatic because of my mother’s accomplishments. Still, I couldn’t help wondering. Did I deserve to be here? Would Ironsides ever have kicked me out of cadet training? The son of Algernon and Jeshua Weight? I’d tried my best, done everything I knew how to do. But if I hadn’t, I would probably still be standing here, my whole life laid out before me, predetermined just like my uniform.
“How does it feel to finally make full pilot?” my father asked.
This too had a right answer. “It feels great,” I said. I glanced back at the now-empty medal stands and allowed myself this one admission: “Not that I’ll be flying for long.”
My mother’s lips set into a line. “Thank the stars you won’t have to.”
I’d been told before I started flight school that I’d only fly active duty for six months. I should be grateful for that, but I wasn’t. I wondered if FM would get to keep flying, or if our whole flight had been trained—using DDF resources, all the focus we’d put into it, the lives of my friends—for nothing.
I knew better than to say that aloud. I didn’t need the lecture about how every sacrifice was part of a greater goal. I knew it by heart. I’d occasionally given it myself.
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