"First, what do you remember about the lunar base?"
"It was a multinational effort, like last century's International Space Station."
"After the loss of contact, the Russians sent a mission to find out what happened. . Everything was intact, except there wasn't a soul to be found."
"Sir, these people are civilians."
Chapter 1 – Arrival
May 17, 2128
The lunar lander touched down on Darkside One's landing pad. Darcy unbuckled herself from the acceleration couch. "Okay, ladies," she barked, "we will make sure our helmets are secure. We will then leave the lander and march to the airlock."
"Yes, Mom," Victoria called.
"Try not to trip up." Darcy looked directly at Victoria. "We want to make a good first impression here."
"Ma'am, what about our luggage?" Renée asked, her Montrealais accent lacing her words.
"I'll deal with that once I get you inside." Darcy turned her attention to Dominque. "Do you have a question or smart comment?"
"No, ma'am." Dominique shook her head. "I'll just be happy to stretch my legs. It's a little cramped in here."
Darcy smiled in sympathy. "These were never designed for tall people. I'll go out first to help you there. Lalonde, can you assist Pearson in here?"
Renée nodded, sending her dark red hair bouncing in the lower gravity. "Not a problem, ma'am."
"Thanks. And Grieg?"
Victoria looked up from her datatab. "Yes?"
"Don't break anything." Darcy put on her helmet and checked its seals. She gave the thumbs up to the others.
Victoria stuck her tongue out at Darcy as she affixed her helmet. She then helped Dominique with her shoulder length blonde hair as the taller woman sealed her helmet. Renée gave a thumbs up once her helmet clicked into place. Darcy's voice crackled over the suits' radio. "Okay, we're set."
The light turned red inside the lander. The air cycled out of the passenger compartment. When the light turned green, Darcy opened the airlock door and stepped out. Slowly, she climbed down to the landing pad's surface, taking her time so she could adjust to the moon's gravity. "I'm down. Pearson, ready?"
"Yeah, hang on," Dominique said. A loud thunk came over the radio. "Damnit!"
"Take it easy, there."
"Duck your head a bit lower, Dom," Renée said.
"The suit won't let me."
"Renée, just push her head down a bit," Victoria suggested.
Darcy sighed. "Ladies, we're expected."
"We know! Renée, wait, move."
"Victoria, no, wait," Dominque said. "I've got this. Let me turn around."
"Victoria, just wait," Renée said.
Darcy stepped aside when she saw a leg come out of the lunar lander. "That's it, Pearson. Just a bit lower to the next rung."
Dominque worked her other leg out of lander. "Ma'am, I want a bigger ship for our return trip."
"So do I. Watch your head."
As she backed out, Dominque bent over a little more. She craned her neck to make sure she wouldn't bash her head again. Once she was completely out, she jumped back. On landing, a cloud of lunar dust dispersed around her feet. "Ta-daa!"
Darcy shook her head. "Happy?"
"I can stand up!" Dominique stretched. In the space suit, she towered over Darcy by more than a head and a half. "The beds better fit."
"They have your measurements already."
"A little help here, please?" Renée had one foot on a rung, but faced away from the hatch. Dominique walked over and offered a hand. With Darcy steadying her on the other side, Renée stepped down to the pad. "I hate this place already."
"It'll get better," Darcy said.
"Hey, guys, I still need to get out," Victoria said.
Darcy pulled Renée to the side. "Let's get the geek out."
"I heard that."
"Good. Everyone, on my mark, switch to the base's comm channel. Keep the bantering to a minimum. We want to at least pretend we're competent soldiers."
Victoria stepped on the last rung. "I can do that." Her foot slipped. She fell backwards, arms flailing. With effort, she managed to get a leg under her and hopped until she regained her balance. "I meant to do that."
"Yeah, right," Dominique said.
"Mark," Darcy said. She switched her suit's radio to the new channel. "Darkside One, this is Lieutenant Kincaid, how do you read? Over."
"Lieutenant, this is Darkside Command, reading you loud and clear. Come on in. Over."
"Darkside, acknowledged, out."
Darcy led her squad, single file, towards the base's airlock. As she reminded herself that her squad mates weren't professional soldiers, had the bare minimum in basic training, in the back of her mind, Darcy couldn't help feel that she had seen better marching in new Air Cadets. Darcy shoved the thought further back and led the team to the open airlock door. She ushered the other women in, then followed inside. The door cycled closed. As air filled the compartment, Darcy could hear the hiss.
When the all clear came over the radio, Darcy motioned for the others to remove their helmets and began taking off her own. The air smelled recycled, a hint of staleness mixed with machine oil and humanity. Still, Darcy allowed herself a quick smile. It was real – she was on the moon. She broke from her brief reverie. "Okay, ladies, we've drilled this. Once we're inside, form a line, turn to your left, and come to attention."
"Yes, ma'am!" the other three chorused. Victoria added, "You'll be proud of us!"
The inner airlock door hissed opened as the pressure equalized. Darcy turned on her heel and marched in, the rest of the squad right behind her. She spotted the officer on duty, an American major with her greying sandy hair pulled into a tight bun. Darcy stopped smartly in front of the major and saluted. "Lieutenant Darcy Kincaid, 404 Squadron, reporting for duty, sir."
The major returned the salute, then offered her hand. "Major Joan di Carlo. Welcome to Darkside One, Lieutenant. We've been expecting Beaver Flight since you launched."
Darcy shook the major's hand. "Beaver Flight?" Behind her, she heard a stifled giggle.
"All combat patrols are named after the originating country's national animal," di Carlo explained. "Weren't you told this?"
"No, ma'am, we weren't."
"Water under the bridge, then." di Carlo pointed to a side room. "You can take off your suits in there. I'll have someone show you to your quarters. Dismissed." The major turned and left the ready room.
Darcy saluted, then turned to the rest of the team. "You heard her. Go take off your space suits."
Victoria burst out in laughter. "Beaver Flight?"
Renée began her trip to the change room. "How old are you, Tori?"
"Okay, that's enough," Darcy said.
"No, really, Beaver Flight? For a squad of women?" Victoria held an arm out to lean on a bulkhead. "No wonder you weren't told."
Dominique rolled her eyes. "It's cute, in it's own way." She edged her way around her teammate.
"I wish I'd known," Darcy said. "I could have protested before we left."
"No, no, no," Victoria stood up. "I like it."
From the change room, Renée called, "You would, Tori."
"Can we just get out of these before I start swimming in mine?" Darcy patted at the beads of sweat forming on her forehead. "I don't want to chafe. Chafing makes me cranky. Being cranky makes me yell at you, which gets you upset. So get moving, Grieg!"
"Lieutenant Kincaid is getting tired of your antics, Tori."
"I noticed that the place is a little barren."
"There's . . . I guess you could say insinuations with the name."