"Okay, ladies, we will make sure our helmets are secure."
"We want to at least pretend we're competent soldiers."
Welcome to Darkside One, Lieutenant. We've been expecting Beaver Flight since you launched."
Chapter 2 - Settling In
May 17, 2028
Beaver Flight found their duffel bags waiting for them on the floor of their shared quarters. Dominique stooped to enter the sparse room. "Ma'am, you mentioned something about beds fitting?"
"I'll put a request in to get you something comfortable," Darcy said. "For now, find your bag, find a bunk and take an hour to get settled. I need to arrange for training space."
"Do you have a preference of top or bottom, ma'am?" Renée asked. She ignored the snickers coming from Victoria.
"Either-- Grieg, we get it, you're twelve years old." Darcy turned back to Renée. "Either's fine, really." She continued down the corridor.
Dominique picked up her bag. "I need a lower bunk, unless either of you want my arms and legs in your face while I sleep."
"Really, Tori, can't you behave like a normal person?" Renée said. She grabbed her duffel.
Victoria stepped into the room. "I can't help it if Bossy Girl leaves lines open like that. Dibs on a top bunk."
Dominique tossed her bag on a lower bunk. "That's another thing, Tori. We're in the Army."
"Air Force," Renée corrected. "Technically, I'm in the Navy."
"Right, Air Force. Tori, we're supposed to give respect to our superiors. They covered that the first week of training." Dominique sat down on her bed, ducking to avoid banging her head.
Renée tossed her bag on the bunk above Dominique. "Lieutenant Kincaid is getting tired of your antics, Tori. She's going to get you to, I don't know . . ."
"Kitchen duty while we're here?" Dominique suggested. "Make every bed on the base?"
"Scrub the bathrooms with a toothbrush."
Victoria tossed her bag on the remaining upper bunk. "You know, for a bunch of people who are on the freaking moon, you're all such killjoys. Come on, guys! The moon! Haven't you ever thought about coming up here like in ever?"
"Yes, Tori, it's exciting," Dominique said. "It's no excuse."
"And Lieutenant Kincaid is regular Air Force, not a 'special recruit' like us," Renée added. "So don't go provoking her. Pretend you're normal."
"Pfft. Normal's overrated."
"Okay, how about this – pretend you're a soldier," Dominique said. "We're the new girls on the block here. We have to fit in."
"Whatever." Victoria slid open the door. "I'm going exploring. I'll be back before Bossy Girl starts worrying." She turned on her heel and left, her brunette hair trailing behind her.
As the door rolled closed, Renée shook her head. "Any bets as to on how long it takes for someone to toss the geek outside without a space suit?"
"She's just excited. Hell, I am, too. Tori has a point. We're on the moon. Not many other people can say they've been here."
Renée leaned against the bunk bed. "Yeah, whee, the moon." She hugged herself tightly.
"Something wrong, Renée?"
Dominique leveled a stare at her teammate. "No, really, Renée, what's wrong?"
Renée sighed. "I thought I could get over it, but, well, look, Dom, don't tell anyone else, okay? Not even Kincaid."
"Not a word." Dominique mimed zipping her lips shut. "Promise."
Renée gave a weak smile. "Thanks. It's just, well, it's the moon. In space. With no air around us. What if there's a leak? What if something goes wrong? It's not like we can just call 911 and have an ambulance or the fire department show up in ten minutes. We're completely screwed."
Dominique reached out to pull Renée down beside her on the bed. "We're not completely screwed. We've been trained. We're here with others who have been here even longer and know what they're doing. There's all sorts of safety protocols and processes and devices to keep us breathing."
"I know that, Dom. I heard the lectures, performed the drills. But, there's still a 'what if' in the back of my head. What if something goes wrong despite our best efforts?"
"That's when you stick with me." Dominique wrapped an arm around the tinier woman's shoulder. "This is my field. I know where things are, how to fix what's broken, and where the safe spots that aren't on the floor plans are. And, I can tell you right now, it's safer to be in the bunk above me than anywhere else in this room."
"Oh? Why's that?"
Dominique smiled. "You don't have to deal with Tori." She gave Renée a light squeeze. "Let's go for a walk and see where the cafeteria is. They might have a coffee-like substance."
Victoria walked down the corridor, curious to see where it went. The walls of the hallway reminded her of all the science fiction series and movies she watched; light grey with stripes halfway between floor and wall. The briefing the former civilian had told her which colour was which; green led to engineering sections, blue was for medical, red for emergencies, gold went to living quarters, and black was restricted. So far, Victoria only saw the gold and red stripes. /Of course,/ she reasoned, /the gold leads back to the good stuff, too./
After a slight bend in the corridor, Victoria spied a green stripe at a T-junction ahead. She smirked to herself. /Now that's more like it./ She quickened her pace. As she neared the junction, she heard footsteps and voices speaking in low tones. Victoria slowed down and stepped a little heavier to warn the people around the corner she was coming. The footsteps slowed down.
Victoria turned the corner. She saw two women, both wearing the coveralls accepted as uniforms at Darkside One. One of the women had skin the colour of cafe au lait. The other was almost as pale as Victoria was herself. "Hello," she greeted.
The paler woman peered at Victoria's epaulets. "Ah, you're part of the Canadian crew," she said with an American mid-west twang. "We felt your ship land."
Victoria shrugged. "I wasn't flying." She smiled, trying for a friendly look. "I was just looking around. An unguided sightseeing tour, kind of."
"Not much around in here, really," the darker woman said, her accent a lilt. "Just the basics, mainly. Cafeteria, meeting rooms, hangar. You should have been briefed."
"Victoria Grieg. Call me Tori." She offered her hand. "There must be more."
The pale woman shook Victoria's hand. "Irene Weber. Second Lieutenant or something like that."
"Pranaya Shahid, Flying Officer and glorified technician." Pranaya smiled. "So, what's your specialty?"
Victoria shrugged. "Quantum physicist. I've got a paper going through peer review and should be published next year. So why were you invited up here?"
Irene nodded. "Medical degree, interned a bit with the Army, with a few specialties like neurology and related."
"Biology and botony. We were just talking about figuring out a proper garden up here, add some green and help with the carbon dioxide exchange. A few plants couldn't hurt, as long as there aren't any allergies."
Victoria nodded. "Yeah, I noticed that the place is a little barren."
"Ask your team leader for paints and such. You're allowed to decorate a bit."
"There may even be some material if you want to create your own," Irene added. "Nevaeh has crocheted a few wall hangings for us."
"We're heading to the mess." Pranaya pointed in down the corridor. "Want to join us?"
"Thanks, but I'm still looking around to get an idea of how things are really laid out. Maybe later?"
Irene smiled. "Sure. Just stay out of the machine room. It's not restricted, but there's so many of us nosy types that there's a guard on duty there all the time to keep us from breaking something. They've got orders to shoot to tase."
"Neveah got shocked when she barged in a week after she got here." Irene shrugged. "Trust me, just don't try."
Darcy stopped outside the Major di Carlo's office. She adjusted her blue coveralls then knocked on the door. After a moment, she heard di Carlo call out for her to go in. Darcy stepped in, closing the door behind her. "Sorry for the interruption, sir."
"Don't worry about it, Lieutenant." di Carlo motioned for her visitor to sit down. "How are your quarters?"
Darcy took a seat in a chair opposite the major. "They're good for most of us. Lieutenant Pearson, though, would like a longer bed."
"She's the long drink of water on your team?" When Darcy nodded, di Carlo continued, "Unfortunately, the bunks are a standard size. I can see how they might be uncomfortable for her. I'll ask Facilities about it. She'll figure something out."
Di Carlo leaned forward on her desk. "There's something else. I can see the worry line starting on your forehead."
"Just some personality conflicts happening on my team, sir. I thought I had it under control, but the low-level bickering is starting again." Darcy sighed. "This is a difficult enough mission, sir. I really wish I had properly trained troops."
The major nodded. "I understand perfectly, Lieutenant. However, the people in charge felt the civilians had skills we needed up here. All the flight leaders are going through similar."
Darcy smirked. "To be honest, I doubt that, sir."
"Let me guess; your problem is the giggler, right?"
"Got it in one, sir."
"Remember that she's still part of your team, Lieutenant. Give her a bit of room to blow off steam, then just put her to work. She's going to be a headache, but don't expect her to be the ideal recruit."
"And make sure the other two don't kill her in her sleep."
"Once you're team settles into their new routine, the problem should resolve itself."
Darcy nodded. "Thank you, sir."
"Anything else, Lieutenant?"
"Actually, yes, sir." Darcy took a breath. "I'd like to lodge a protest on the flight's name. There's . . . I guess you could say insinuations with the name."
"'Beaver', sir." Darcy felt her cheeks getting warm. "I understand the national animal approach, but, well, yeah, 'beaver'."
"I see. I can take your concerns up the chain, but we'll need a new name for your flight. Any suggestions?"
"Actually, sir, I think I should ask the rest of the team. See if I can get them to agree on a name."
Di Carlo smiled. "Good thinking, Lieutenant. I'll start with your protest, to make sure it gets lodged. Let me know what your team comes up with."
Renée and Dominique sat down at one of the numerous tables in the base's mess. A few other women, wearing different uniforms, were milling around, chatting or just sitting and reading while on break. Renée looked around the room. The decor was far less sparse than their quarters, with various wall hangings mounted on the wall and the room painted in warm aqua with tan highlighting. Renée felt far more comfortable here than back in the shared quarters. She took a sip of her coffee. "Ah, hosti, this is bad." She grimaced.
Dominique passed over the sugar to her teammate. "This might help."
"I doubt it." Still, Renée dumped in several spoonfuls into her coffee. "I don't want to know what they use for filters here."
"You're exaggerating a little." Dominique took a sip of her coffee. "Ew, no, I take that back. Dear god, that's horrid."
"You use words like 'horrid'?"
Dominique shrugged. "What about it?"
"I've never heard anyone use the word. It means 'horrible', yes?"
Renée shook her head. "So why not use 'horrible'?"
"I read a lot of English novels as a kid, okay? England English, that is. The older ones used 'horrid'."
"Just wondering." Renée looked around the mess hall again. "This is really weird."
"We're on the moon," Dominique pointed out. "You're going to have to be more specific."
Renée glared at her teammate. "Look around."
Dominique put her coffee mug down and glanced around the room. "What am I looking for?"
"Notice what's missing?"
"Missing?" Dominique took another look. "This is our first time here. What could be missing? Unless you're having déja-vu."
"How many men do you see?"
Dominique peered around the mess hall to do her count. "None."
"Exactly. I think this is just odd. Have you ever been anywhere that was just women?"
"Change room at the gym. Basketball court. I think I had an arts elective with absolutely no guys in it at all."
"I mean in the real world. University doesn't count. I had a women's study class with no men, too. But in cafeterias or hallways or places like that? It's just odd here, you know?"
Dominique nodded. "Yeah. No one making sleazy pick up lines or looking at my ass or chest. I think I like it."
"Sure, now. How long do you think you'll last before you miss anything like that?"
"Renée, look at me. I'm taller than most people, men and women. My rack is eye level for most of the guys I know. I need to sit down just so people don't strain themselves looking me in the eye. Here? I'm looking forward to being accepted as me, not the tall girl who is slightly intimidating."
Renée nodded. "Okay, I hadn't thought of that. But, I do like being looked at, especially when I'm out dancing. I like having fun with guys, you know? Here, well, who do I dress up for?"
"Yourself, maybe? Though I have no idea how miniskirts will fare in the moon's gravity. Dancing could get interesting."
"I suppose." A note of dejection underlay Renée's tone. "I hope that all of our needs have been considered."
"I'm sure they have. Just leave a stocking on the door if you need some 'personal' time in our bunk."
"Oh, God, I hadn't thought of that." Renée's eyes widened. "We have no privacy. God, what if Tori doesn't care and just goes ahead?"
"Ew. Don't even go there. At least she's over Kincaid and not me."
Renée laughed. "Okay, but ever have four women in the same room?"
"I was in the Girl Guides. It happened. It was a mess. I believe the phrase 'cruel and unusual punishment' was created to describe the situation."
"I have a baby sister, three years younger than me. We had to share a bathroom. Mornings got epic. I don't want to think what it'll be like with the four of us every morning."
"Tell you what – I'll go workout and use the gym's shower room, if there is one. That should help." Dominque ran a hand through her blonde hair. "Maybe see if there's a hairdresser here, too. A haircut would make it easier and faster to manage."
"Oh, no, don't cut your hair for us."
Dominique took another sip of her coffee, then made a face. "I had it short while I worked on my Master's degree just to find more time to work on my thesis. It's no big deal, really."
Renée pushed her mug to the side. "But your hair looks so good on you. It'd be a shame."
A woman with a tray with plates of food walked over to the table, her sandy brown hair cut into a shaggy crewcut. "May I join you?" she asked with a Russian accent.
"Please." Renée pulled out a chair for the newcomer. "I'm Renée, this is Dom. We're the newbs."
The woman sat down. "Thanks. Canadian, da?"
"Yep," Dominique said. "Just got here half an hour ago. Still trying to get used to being here."
"Lieutenant Yulya Emelin, Russian Space Forces." Yulya dug into her meal.
Renée thought for a moment. "You're the women who survived."
Yulya gave Renée a flash of a smile. "Da."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to blurt it out like that."
"We had a very short briefing," Dominique explained. "We weren't told that you were going to be here."
Yulya stopped eating for a moment, holding her fork in midair above her plate. "I see."
"Do you mind if we ask you questions?" Renée asked.
"Yes, I mind."
"Oh." Taken aback, Renée picked up her coffee mug and sipped. "Dom, the sugar isn't working."
Yulya set down her fork. "I can, however, give you tips. First tip, don't drink the coffee. The water is better for you, and if you must have caffeine, drink the tea. Much healthier."
"You don't use as much sugar." Yulya cracked a genuine smile. "We have Japanese mechanics who arrange for their tea. Far better than the coffee that's sent."
Renée picked up her coffee mug and Dom's. "Sounds like a good idea. Want anything while I'm up?"
"A doughnut," Dom said.
"A napkin, please."
Renée walked over to the kitchenette and poured the coffee down the sink. She placed the mugs into a plastic basin, then found new cups and the stash of green tea. After she grabbed a napkin for the Russian and a pastry for Dominique, she returned to the table. "No doughnuts," she said as she sat down. "Maybe we can get Darcy to request a Tim Horton's up here."
Yulya raised an eyebrow. "Tim Horton's?"
"It's a doughnut shop back home," Dominique explained. "Like an American Starbuck's but cheaper and without the pretence."
"There's one on almost every corner," Renée added. "Decent enough. But, you have to go Montreal to get real crepes. Far better than the ones Tim's serves."
"Have you been to the crepes place in the Market in Ottawa?" Dominique challenged.
"Yes, and it doesn't compare."
"I hope your country sent up some of your cooking," Yulya said. "It is getting tiring rotating through just four nations worth of food, especially when some of those nations don't have proper food to begin with."
Renée sipped her tea. "I hope so, too. It'll be better than the freeze dried stuff we ate in training."
"Don't remind me," Dominique said. "No poutine, no beavertails, and what they did have tasted like it came from the university res cafeteria. It was just crap."
Yulya laughed. "They can't send up real food. Everything is powdered and remade here."
In a flat tone, Dominique said, "Three-D printed food, yum."
Renée looked over at Yulya's plate and the mashed potatoes on it. "That looks decent enough."
"Da, but I miss salads. Some of the other pilots are trying to start a garden, but nothing's ready yet. It took them weeks to get the soil sent up."
Renée sighed. "It's going to be a long mission here."
"I don't like authority."
"Beaver Flight, here are your power suits."
"Oh. My. God. Mecha!"