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Proving Grounds

Posted on Wednesday February 8th, 2017 @ 10:37am by Captain John Williams & Lieutenant Commander Olivia Constantine

Mission: Intermission 1: New Home
Location: USS Jerusalem: Deck 32, CAG's Office
Timeline: 3 February 2392, 1300

USS Jerusalem: Deck 32, CAG's Office
3 February 2392, 1300

Lero, lero, liliburlero
Liliburlero bull en a la...


With that ancient tune being whistled wordlessly from his lips, newly-minted Captain John Williams stepped out of the turbolift, into the heart of fighter country aboard the Jerusalem. Acknowledging the crewmembers bracing against the bulkheads (an old tradition of respect for superior officers that still came in handy at times, since Jerusalem's corridors were not always Starfleet-standard widths and were sometimes damn narrow) with a nod rather than a spoken word, he strode over to the door to the CAG's office. Pressing the chime, he stood in his flight suit, with helmet under his arm, like it was any other day.

"Come in."

The doors in front of Williams obediently slid open, permitting him access to Constantine's office. She was standing in front of the main feature inside her office, a controllable display that served as an overview of the air wing. It was built directly into the wall and could be made transparent to provide a view of the hangar deck below if need be. In the same way, it could be made opaque to afford the occupant a more isolated, private space. For now, though, Constantine was glancing down the the manifest, making mental notes about the slew of promotions that had taken place a few days past.

"Ah, what a pleasant surprise! Hello captain," she greeted her visitor. "Nice digs, you look like you're ready for a sortie. I didn't miss something on the schedule did I? What brings you to fighter country?"

"Nope, you didn't. However, what you may have missed is a directive from HQ Aerospace; if folks in non-flight positions like me want to keep their quals, we gotta do at least 2 hours of sim time in the primary fighter at our command per 3 months. So I figured today, being slow, is a good day for a sim run and wondered if you want to come join the fun," Williams offered, grinning.

"Well sir, I certainly don't see why not," Constantine replied in turn with a grin of her own. "It'll be a welcome break from the absolute square root of jack that I've got going on today. Let me grab a couple of things and then we can go."

Constantine sprang into action, deftly returning a few miscellaneous items to their resting places either on top of or inside her desk. She glanced at the clock more than once during the routine, an old habit that had followed her around since her Academy days, even though there was no penalty for tardiness on this particular occasion. Finally, helmet in hand and PADD tucked safely inside of her jacket pocket, she motioned towards the door.

"So," she started, "I'm sure you have some stick time in most, if not all, of our types. Which one did you want to do your session in today?"

"Let's try the Raptor this time. It was the last type I've flown even in trainers, so less rust to shake off," Williams noted.

"Okay, works for me. Shall we?"

Williams nodded, following the CAG out of her office and to the sims.

"Lots of folks in the sims try and beat some of your old qual scores. Some fail. Others fail miserably. It's kind of amusing how many people pass out trying to match eight Gs for thirty seconds thing," Constantine instigated a conversation as they entered the corridor.

"Oh God. That record, at least, was not set intentionally - I was basically praying the inertial dampeners would kick in the whole time - and by the end I was disturbingly close to hitting GLOC in a really sticky situation. It's doable, yes. It is...not something I would ever recommend anyone try to meet, beat, or even approach," Williams noted as he walked. "Especially since the flight surgeon on the Munich wanted my neck after that."

"Ah yes, G-LOC. I've put many a trainee through the spin cycle and put almost as many to sleep once or twice. We had one particular operator who was nicknamed 'Sandman' because he had this one monster profile that caught a lot of people off guard. He claimed it simulated an unexpected proximity detonation combined with an inertial dampener failure, but I think he was just a sadistic son of a bitch. Either way, I have yet to get any strongly worded letters from Commander van Richten or his staff, so I guess we're doing okay. Might explain why I received a fruit basket from the chiropractor the other day though," the CAG sported a wry smile.

"Indeed," Williams noted with a grin. "Try not to drum up too much business for the medical department, though, OK? We want to not hit records for VA claims when they get out."

"I'll keep an eye on it. I'm sure my instructors know where to draw the line," Constantine nodded as they approached the door leading into the training area. Inside, there were debriefing rooms, classrooms, and a number of simulators designed to replicate the systems and physical layout inside each of the Jerusalem's many fighter types. It wasn't the real thing, but it was damn close.

"After you, sir."

"Got it," Williams replied, walking ahead. Looking to the Petty Officer running sim control this watch, he nodded. "Two Raptor sims, please, Petty Officer. Further setup I'll leave to Commander Constantine."

"Ehhh, give me a second," Constantine thought for a moment what the best course of action would be. She knew the curriculum and required tasks, but fitting them into a two hour sim session using scenario based training would be difficult. Two hours wasn't really that much time.

"Alright, I've got it," she snapped back to the present. "Standard parameters, standard loadout - nothing too fancy yet. We won't break anything until later on in the session," she looked sideways at Williams with a raised eyebrow, "or will we? Anyway, you can start with us set-up for a mag-launch. Captain, you'll be flying lead."

The petty officer nodded and proceeded to input the requested parameters into the control panel. Further into the room, the doors leading into two of the sims opened with a decidedly electric whir, permitting the two pilots access. Everything would be ready by the time they strapped in, the NCO would ensure it.

"Uh, captain, sim number five. Commander, sim number four," he motioned.

"Got it, sim five." Williams replied, pressing his hand against a palmpad next to the doors to sim five, "signing in" to the sim and locking it to his use before he stepped through the doors and took a seat, putting on his helmet and plugging it in. Once he plugged in the helmet, the sim would begin for him - complete with the gravity being turned to the level of the Raptor's usual configuration, which is why he also made sure to strap into the acceleration chair. At least the craft started pre-flighted.

Constantine spent a few moments back at the control station with the NCO, outlining the plan that she had in mind before making her way into her sim and getting herself situated.

"Alright captain, comms check on number one," the CAG's voice wafted through the communications system.

"Five by five on circuit one," Williams replied.

"Number two."

"Five by five on circuit two."

"Alright sir, good test. The plan is fairly simple today. We'll start off with our typical escort type sortie, just for fun, we'll be escorting a transport freighter through a dense asteroid field. Uh, I dunno, maybe the transport is full of puppies or kittens or something. Whatever motivates you. Anyway, like I said, you're flying lead. I'll do my best to evaluate and not be a shitty wingman. Questions?"

"Got it. Full of plasma-breathing space salamanders or something. No questions." Williams replied, chuckling.

"Roger that. Since we've got the Jerusalem involved in our scenario, simulated Combat Ops will help us out as AWACS. Standard departure, rendezvous point bearing zero-niner-zero, mark zero, thirty kilometers. When you're ready sir."

"Roger." With that, Williams pushed the throttle forward to full military power, wiped the controls, and then saluted the virtual launch officer smartly. "Wolfpack One One launching." Constantine, in this scenario, had a tactical callsign of "Wolfpack One Two", with AWACS as "Wolves' Den One".

The simulators housed a sophisticated and complex artificial gravity system that used the Jerusalem's artificial gravity as a reference point. From this baseline, the pilots inside could be subjected to a wide range of G forces, something that both Williams and Constantine were made immediately aware of as their fighters launched into space. For her part, Constantine flew the standard carrier departure until she arrived at the predetermined rendezvous point, rapidly closing the distance to her lead before performing a barrel roll to get herself into position.

"I spot you in position, Wolfpack One Two. Proceed to rendezvous with the transport: Vee formation until rendezvous, at which point we take ladder positions," Williams ordered. In short, Constantine would fly behind and above Williams, until their rendezvous with the transport, which would be when they took up positions above and below the larger vessel.

"Copy all, Wolfpack One One, stay frosty," Constantine replied over the comms. The rendezvous and intercept went smoothly, just as Williams had prescribed in his orders. However, just as they took position around the transport vessel, a blip appeared on Constantine's tactical display, followed by several others. Her finger was just about to depress the push to talk button, but a voice came over the frequency before she was able to do so.

"Wolfpack One One, Wolves Den shows four bogeys on an intercept course, bearing two-zeven-zero, mark zero-one-five. Long range sensors have identified the vessels as confirmed hostile, you are cleared to engage. ETA is, uh. . . right the hell now!"

"Wolves Den, Wolfpack One One copies your vector and weapons free. I have them on scopes, engaging." Williams replied. With that, a switch of the commchannels to talk to Constantine. "Personally, I've always been a fan of using the BVR capabilities of the Raptor. I'm thinking two microtorps from each of us, one per target?"

"Copy, ready when you are."

"OK then. Your targets are as marked on the datalink. Engage once you have tone, but keep our big friend in visual." Williams said, keeping an eye on the transport as he directed it to raise shields and engage what countermeasures it had as it moved to find cover behind some nearby asteroids.

The two fighters began to yaw in order to face the incoming threat. With their ability to attack from beyond-visual-range, there was actually a fair chance that they could thin out large numbers of fighters to a more manageable number before getting into what some pilots referred to as a "knife fight" with close range dogfighting. For now, the datalink provided by AWACS contained positive tracking information on four targets, which was more than enough for the sophisticated tracking systems on micro quantum torpedoes to help deliver their payload to their targets.

"Fox three," Constantine announced, denoting the the launch of the first of two actively guided warheads.

"Fox three," Williams announced in turn, launching his first two microtorps.

"Wolves Den shows one target disabled, two damaged, and one still active. Good work, but buckle up, here they come."

"Acknowledged, Wolves Den. Wolfpack One Two, take high cover over our friend, we're going to let em come to us for a bit," Williams replied.

"You got it, Wolfpack One Two moving into position."

Constantine maneuvered her Raptor class fighter directly above the transport vessel, using it as a form of visual obstruction with the hope that the enemy would only spot one fighter instead of both simultaneously. A good pilot could leverage this momentary confusion to get into an advantageous position. A great one could disable the target without ever being spotted visually.

"Where are they," Constantine muttered over the open comm as she scanned for a visual.

"Wolfpack One One, Wolves Den showing increased ionic activity in your area. We may lose the datalink, I will continue to...you...dated...uation...progr..."

The first wrinkle in the scenario, right on schedule.

"And yup," Williams noted over the comms. "We lost the datalink. Wolfpack One Two and Lassie One," he decided, using the callsign for the transport they were escorting, "let's establish the datalink between ourselves then using LPI method three," referring to the low-probability-of-intercept laser links that could be established between the three craft. It'd limit them to having to remain within visual range of at least one of the other two craft at all times, but it was better than nothing for enhanced situational awareness. "Meanwhile, Wolfpack One Two, again, use the field for cover. Play it defensive until we know the precise extent of enemy forces. Lassie One, hunker down. Shields up, maximum defensive measures. Arm all personnel and prepare to repel boarders if needed."

"LPI method three, you got it," Constantine replied as she visually scanned the area above her. Three of the enemy fighters were still combat capable, but if reinforcements were coming, there would be little to no advance warning. As she looked above the starboard nacelle of the transport ship, a streak of plasma venting from a damaged fighter caught her eye. One of the fighters had taken some major damage to its engines, but all indications pointed to the fact that the enemy pilot was gamely hanging on to his craft.

"I've got a visual, he's just outside effective weapons range. Oh, and he's venting plasma from earlier damage." Constantine intentionally left the statement dangling to see if Williams would take on the risk of an ambush to eliminate another fighter from the enemy force or play it safe and continue to maintain a defensive posture.

"Keep it defensive, but monitor him, Wolfpack One Two. We're not taking the bait," Williams replied simply. "Let them come to us, we're here to protect that transport."

"Understood."

Together, the two fighters continued to maintain a defensive perimeter around the transport vessel as they continued to fly towards the simulated version of the Jerusalem. The asteroid belt they were currently navigating through was starting to thin out, but it still was dense enough that a large starship couldn't maneuver through.

"Wolfpack One One, One Two has been using some dead reckoning from our last confirmed datalink position. Currently estimating no more than four minutes until we are back within range of the Jerusalem. Conveniently, the asteroid belt begins to thin considerably over the next little bit here, so if they're going to make a move, you'd best believe they're going to do it soon."

"Of course they will. Ain't my first time, remember. Let the enemy come, for now," Williams replied. "That said, prepare defenses. Lassie One, now might be a time to get into survival suits, dial back life support, and put the extra power into shields and warp drives. Wolfpack One Two, now's the time to get proactive. See if you can spot any ambush locations we can use. Or that they could use."

From her vantage point, Constantine could see that a few of the larger asteroids capable of hiding the profile of the attacking fighters would be in close proximity to the upper hull of the transport. Even though she had designed the scenario and environment, the ship's computer was providing the artificial intelligence for the aggressors, meaning that she was just as in the dark about what was going to happen next as Williams was.

"I've got some likely candidates for ambush locations. I think they may try and leverage their numbers advantage against us and try for a three versus one strafing attack to try for a knockout blow," Olivia stated. At least, she thought, that's how I would try to win this.

"OK then. Think we can blow apart those asteroids with our phasers from here?" Williams asked. When in doubt, reduce the enemy's cover.

"Might be worth a shot, I'll start working working on the ones large enough to conceal the fighters in my sector. Feel free to join in, Lassie One," Constantine replied over the comm.

Beam after beam lanced across the simulated asteroid field as the trio of vessels began to break up the larger asteroids into smaller pieces. With their combined sensor network working alongside the sophisticated targeting computers inside each of the fighters, it was just a matter of time before one of the asteroids they hit would provoke the enemy combatants. It was the equivalent of shaking a tree and seeing what fell out, but given the circumstances, it was a prudent course of action.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, Constantine spotted the characteristic glow of impulse engines roaring to life.

"Contact! Three ship formation, dipping below the saucer section right now!"

"I see it. Set torpedoes to bear on their impulse signatures and fire blind," Williams ordered. It wasn't a common move - if the torpedo impacted something other than the target indicated it'd still go boom - but it was a feature newer models had, not unlike active radar homing on guided missiles of the 20th and 21st centuries. "Firing two now. Fox three active, Fox three active."

It took Constantine a few moments to change the targeting parameters on her torpedoes. The margin of error was quite large for the method of tracking they had chosen. The risks involved? Actively tracking the wrong impulse signature could lead to a disastrous outcome. However, Olivia looked up from the tactical display just in time to see both of Williams's warheads detonate in close proximity to the enemy fighters and the hull of the transport ship. Luckily, Lassie One's shields withstood the energy from the impact.

The same could not be said for two of the fighters.

"Splash two bandits. Fox three, fox three," Constantine announced in rapid succession. The first of her two torpedoes never deviated off of its initial vector before impacting into a smaller asteroid well clear of the engagement area. However, the second warhead found its mark, crippling the third and final enemy fighter.

The rest of the "flight" was uneventful, ending after both fighters had made smooth automatic approaches to the Jerusalem's flight deck.

As the computer said "Simulation complete", Williams stood and walked out of the cockpit, back to the sim bay.

"So, your evaluation, Commander?" he asked once Constantine had done the same. "Feel free to be honest."

"Ah, I'm just finishing up your endorsement for recurrent training. A bit old fashioned, but I still like to keep a log of things," Constantine replied as she finished tapping a few commands into her PADD. Somewhere, some computer system that kept track of these kinds of things added another entry into both pilots' logbooks, something that was becoming an increasingly rare occasion.

"Well sir, it's official, you're checked out for the quarter. As far as a debrief goes, let me first start by saying I had fun in the sim for the first time in a while. Lately it's been getting a lot of type transition training and other minutiae that have to be done. So it was nice to just jump in and fly a scenario. It was nice to see some excellent tactical planning and, well, improvisational skills. I find that with a good number of new pilots, they are fine going by the book until they have to deviate away from the plan. As you know, there is no plan when things start to go downhill, and your experience definitely shows."

"Aw, thanks. And any downsides?" Williams asked.

"Purely from a technical standpoint," Constantine continued, "there was a bit of rust with a few of the procedures, but that's to be expected. It was an easy formation join up, so that's good. I guess the main takeaway is that your orders and communication were excellent, which goes a long way towards explaining your success at your current position, I would say."

"Fair enough, yeah. It's the little things that tend to trip us up," Williams replied, nodding.

With that, a beep and the voice of the CO's new yeoman came from his combadge. "Pearson to Williams. You have a communication from a Commodore Gallardo of OPSTAR-74 inbound, sir?"

A quick tap of the combadge followed. "Understood, Petty Officer. Tell the Commodore I'll be picking him up in a few moments, just got out from doing my qualification in the flight sims. Williams out."

With that, then, he returned his attention to Constantine. "A quick debrief on my part: You generally did good, but I could tell you were depending on your systems a bit more than your innate abilities. Usually that makes sense in a dogfight, but you want to try to keep a picture in your head of the combat even without their help - as a fight gets bigger, the systems can be deceived a lot easier than your gut instinct. Anyway, I think I've talked about that before. For right now: You did the approach to Jerusalem on automatic. So would virtually every pilot, to the extent that we don't train nearly as much as we should for manual approaches. When was the last time you tried a manual approach and touchdown? Could you still do one in an emergency if the autoland failed, do you think?"

"Yes, I'm confident that I'd be able to do it. One of the benefits to having done so much instructing recently is that I've been able to run through some of the stranger scenarios with the pilots during type conversion training. Most of the time, I have to demonstrate a maneuver first, so I've been getting a lot of practice," Constantine nodded. "That said, sir, I do appreciate the feedback, and I'll see if I can find a better balance between systems and good old fashioned talent."

"Fair enough. OK then, Commander, I'll go see what Commodore Gallardo wants." With that, Williams jogged out of the sim bay.

 

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