It would’ve been nice if you’d brought cigars, too. But I guess a man can’t have everything.
Let me answer your question before you ask it: no, I don’t know what happened to them. Something bad, obviously. Just look up at the night sky and you can work that much out. You can bet your ass the Council knows exactly what happened. But they’re not talking to you, right?
Instead, you got desperate enough to contact retired Warp Squad members still kicking around on the home planets — wanted to see if they knew anything about the vanishing. Am I right again? Well, what can I say, I’ve always been a good guesser. The key is to always guess at the worst possible outcome — that way you’ll be right most of the time. Least, that’s my experience.
Let me try another: none of the retired members would talk to you either, right? Makes sense. They got cushy little lives now, and they’d lose all that if they talked to a journalist. It’s part of the contract once you retire. No talking about your days in Warp Squad.
I, on the other hand, am happy to talk. See, I didn’t get the chance to retire, and I sure as hell don’t get the eth that comes around like clockwork every year of your retirement. You get less than squat if you’re dishonourably kicked out. As if there’s any other way to be kicked out.
So look at me now, eh? From one of the sixteen best pilots in the alliance, beloved by all on the home planets, a hero to children, to… to this. To a bitter old man spilling everything he knows for a little eth and a lot of vodka. Although what I’m spilling is barely a drip cause there’s nothing much in this glass, if you know what I mean. Just because I used to be a member doesn’t mean I’m still privy to updates. I’m not, and I haven’t been for a long time.
You know something? I’ve not heard from any of my old squad since being discharged. Which hurts, to be honest. Makes sense, sure, but still hurts. Because no one — not even the Warp Squad members — know who each other are behind the helmets. Once you become Warp Squad, you’re stripped naked of your identity. You’re just pilot four, or twelve, or nine. Nine is who I was for two years, by the way. If you didn’t know.
What I mean to say is, I didn’t even know who I was flying with at the time. All I knew was that they were the best pilots alive. And that three had a voice as sexy as whiskey pouring over ice — cracking just sometimes, just slightly.
We used to flirt, you know? Me and three. Nothing heavy. [Laughs] One thing I’d do — and maybe she hated this, I don’t know — was tell her that her transmissions were coming through very weak. I’d ask her to repeat because I couldn’t hear. And I’d tell her that over and over to keep her talking. Because if you fell asleep to her voice, you knew you were in for sweet dreams.
She seemed happy to oblige.
I only found out who she was when she retired a decade later. Tried to get in contact but she wouldn’t take my transmissions. None of my old team would — although only five of them made it to retirement. I think, as far as three was concerned, I’d died the day I’d been kicked out. And I was soon replaced by a new nine who probably didn’t bug her half as much.
Another part of me wonders if, after ten years without an identity, you kind of retire without one, too. If three is, even as we speak, trying to figure out who she really is. Does that makes any sense?
You’re not interested in any of this. I get it. I can see it in your face. There’s enough written about it all, anyway. About what I did, and whether it was right or wrong. Not that right or wrong matters — only orders matter, and I guess that’s where I went wrong.
Look, what I can tell you about the current Warp Squad is that they’re even better pilots than we were. Training, testing, mental acuity, all that stuff, it just gets tougher and more rigorous each cycle. Whoever those pilots were, they were absolutely the best of the best. Their ships even more advanced than ours were, which barely seems possible to me. What I’m saying is, if they can’t deal with whatever’s out there, then your neck should be sticky with sweat.
I know mine is.
Hang on, one more thing. In my two years as a Warp Squad member — and I know two years isn’t much to go on — we were never all sent to the same place at the same time. We never travelled as sixteen. There was no need, you understand? One of us could take care of the most volatile situation. And that’s not me bragging, just the truth. Two of us, with how advanced our ships were, how skilled we were, we could end a war.
Or start one, like I did.
Although I still believe it was the right decision, regardless of how it ended.
Point is: all sixteen were summoned back here. Together. Sent out together. That much we all know, right?
What that says to me is the Council knew this was something very big and very bad.
Once you leave here, go look up in your history books when the last time all sixteen squad members flew together.
I reckon you’d have to go pretty far back.
Maybe even to when the original home planet died and Warp Squad was created.