Max had been a pilot with EarthHope 2nd division fleet for two months and 28 days now. In a couple of days he was due to get some well needed R&R. The last 3 weeks had seen him fight in only half a dozen sorties but he'd seen some of his best mates get injured and killed. He himself had had a few close shaves. Those he fought with came and went. Newbies, greens - the inexperienced. Most of them didn't make it past the first sortie. If they survived - they might survive a couple more and hopefully learn some valuable techniques for getting through. But they still needed a lot of luck.
If high command gets it wrong and sends the wrong signals, or if the enemy just happens to be better on the day there's not a lot you can do. Max had heard of entire squadrons lost because some fool in command thought they'd try something new and innovative without having tested the idea in the simulator first. Dozens of lives lost simply because someone wanted to experiment.
Max needed the R&R. In one sense it would be welcome relief. But on another level he dreaded it. Partially because he knew it was only temporary. The respite and relief he would receive from the fighting would only serve to heighten the sense of dread and anticipation as those last few days of rest evaporated. But there was worse than the dreaded anticipation.
Most of his friends and families had only experienced civilian life. They'd not had to worry about whether some small enemy vessel would get past their defences and tear a rent in the hull causing the precious oxygen to leak out catastrophically. Or whether he would make it back alive or in one piece each night - or even whether the carrier he was stationed on would still be there on his return.
Max didn't talk about the goings on at the front lines with his family. It was too hard. His mother could sense the tension in Max and it caused her pain. Max didn't like causing her pain. The difference in the two worlds - the front line and civilian life was too great to be comprehensible to those who hadn't experienced it. Sometimes in the name of survival you just had to do what needed doing. In a spaceship, a precarious little bubble in the void you were effectively alone once you engaged. Unlike ground combat - in a 3d environment with no cover, perfect visibility - it was a killing area. This made it hard to make friends on the front line - not like in traditional combat as you couldn't help each other out. There was no communication between the fighters but they knew that their success depended on each of them doing their job. There was no one to blame should someone fuck up because if one failed - none of you would be returning home.
In two days Max would be eating dinner with family, most likely a roast - his father cooked a great roast. Sometimes it felt he had to be emotionally stronger at these events - with those who loved him and he loved - than on the front lines. He knew he would be changed by the experience. The last great war against the cybernetic AioSenti had seen innumerable men and women return changed people by the horrors they had experienced. Ancient terms were used to describe it. Shell shock. Thousand yard stare. Look '44'.
Max closed his eyes and hoped dinner would be lamb this time.