"Pfft. Normal's overrated."
"Yeah, I noticed that the place is a little barren."
"It's going to be a long mission here."
Chapter 3 - New Equipment
May 18, 2128
The morning began with a bugle blaring over the intercom speaker. Victoria threw her pillow in the general direction, hitting the door instead. "Someone make it shush," she grumbled sleepily.
Darcy hit the floor almost immediately. "Okay, girls, time to get up! Let's go! We've got a long day ahead."
Renée climbed down from her bunk. "What time is it?"
"Time to get up. Grieg, get down here, now!"
"Five more minutes . . .?"
Darcy grabbed the support to Victoria's upper berth and shook. "Now, Grieg!"
"I'm up, I'm up!" Victoria pushed her self up with her arms. "Sheesh." She swung her legs over the side of the bed.
"Get cleaned, get dressed, then go get breakfast." Darcy looked over at Dominique's bed. "Pearson, I said--" She broke off as she saw that the bed was empty. "Where's Pearson?"
Victoria jumped down from her bunk. "How should I know? I was peacefully asleep until someone rudely played a trumpet in my ear."
Renée combed back her unruly red mane with her fingers. "She could be at the gym, maybe. She mentioned something about a workout in the mornings."
"Great. Never mind, at least she's up." Darcy gathered her clothing for the day. "I'm grabbing my shower. You two make your beds and start getting ready."
Renée reached out and smacked the back of Victoria's head. "Stop that."
"And no hitting each other yet. Save it for the gym."
"Yes, ma'am," Renée said.
Victoria rubbed the back of her head. Once Darcy disappeared, she said. "What was that for?"
"Stop being such an idiot, Tori." Renée started picking out her clothes. "I don't see why you have to backtalk the Lieutenant all the time."
"I don't like authority."
"Okay, and at what point were you thinking that being in the Air Force, on a military base, surrounded by soldiers and officers was a good idea?" Renée rolled her eyes. "Really, why did you bother signing up?"
Victoria shrugged. "I needed to pay off my student loans, just like you and Dom. And, well, I'm in space. That was the big thing."
"Well, smarten up or Kincaid will, I don't know, send you home or something."
Darcy returned from the bathroom, dressed in her uniform. "That was something. Quit standing around, ladies. Get moving! Lalonde, you're next in the shower. Grieg, clothes? You're not leaving here in your Pjs."
"Yes, M--" Victoria stopped as Renée glared at her. "Okay, I know." She started working out her own clothes.
Darcy walked towards the door. "I'll see everyone in the mess in fifteen minutes for break--" A whistle from the intercom interrupted her. The lieutenant pressed the receive button. "Kincaid here."
"Lieutenant, this is Sergeant Miller. Major di Carlo request that you and your squad meet her at the hangar for oh-eight-hundred-thirty."
"Oh-eight-hundred-thirty, acknowledged. Thanks." The comm line broke. "You heard the Sergeant. Breakfast has to wait."
"Wonderful." The sarcasm in Victoria's tone oozed through the word.
"I'll go tell Pearson. Keep getting dressed, you two." Darcy left.
Renée stepped into the communal bathroom with her clothes for the day. Even though Darcy had just been in here, there was no steam, no residual warmth from her shower. The Quebecoise shrugged, then slipped out of her night clothes. She reached into the shower to turn on the water. A low hum throbbed from the shower walls. Curious, Renée stepped in, closing the sliding door behind her. The hum grew louder, and felt like it was pulsing against her from all sides, not enough to do much more than massage her. Flakes of dead skin fell off her into the basin. She squeaked in surprise before she realized that the shower worked with sonics instead of water. Renée picked up a loofa sponge from the shelf beside her and started scrubbing.
After what felt like a few minutes, she heard banging from the door. "Renée, would you hurry up?" Victoria bellowed. "I really have to go!"
"Hang on!" Renée finished her scrubbing and towelled herself before stepping out of the shower and getting dressed. After a quick adjustment of her uniform coveralls, she opened the door and smiled sweetly at Victoria. "All yours."
"Thanks." Victoria dashed inside, closing the door behind her.
Renée returned to her bunk and started making her bed. After a few minutes, she heard an inarticulate yell from the shower. She smiled.
Beaver Flight gathered together at the briefing room leading to the hangar. Major di Carlo was already there, working on her datatab. Darcy called the Flight to attention, then shook her head as she watched the women more or less get into formation. "Major di Carlo, Beaver Flight," Darcy suppressed a shudder at the name, "reporting as ordered."
"At east," di Carlo ordered. "Thanks for coming." The Major stood up. "Ladies, first, again, welcome to Darkside One. I trust that your accommodations are holding up." Di Carlo addressed Dominique. "Lieutenant, I have someone working on a solution for your bed. I'll let you or Lieutenant Kincaid know once something has been figured out. I've also placed in the the formal protest over the name of your flight."
"Protest?" Victoria asked.
"Not now, Grieg," Darcy said.
"Lieutenant Kincaid is correct, Lieutenant Grieg. Now is not the time." Di Carlo walked towards the the far exit. "Follow me, please." The Major led the way out of the briefing room, past a change room, and into the hangar. "Second, allow me to show you what your intense training was preparing you for."
Lights came on, briefly blinding the five women. As their vision cleared, they could see four sheets covering large, vertical objects. Di Carlo signalled to the control room above. On cue, the four sheets fell away, revealing humanoid robots two to three metres tall, each painted to look like the Canadian flag.. "Beaver Flight, here are your power suits."
Victoria's jaw dropped. Dominique gave a low whistle. "That's . . ." Her voice trailed off. "Lieutenant, did you know about this?"
Darcy walked towards the power suits. "Major, I don't think we have trained for these."
"Nonsense. One of the requirements we passed to Canadian Air Command is that we need chopper pilots. You have to be able to coordinate all your limbs, not just two at a time." Di Carlo stepped aside to let the rest of the flight approach the power suits.
Victoria finally managed to close her mouth. "Mecha . . ." She gave her head a shake. "Oh. My. God. Mecha!" She squealed.
"Oh, great," Renée muttered.
"How?" Dominique walked towards the tallest power suit. "I mean, the cube-square law is in effect. How can it be able to stand?" Equations started running through her head. "Okay, the lower gravity would help, but the feedback systems to let the pilot keep this thing standing must be incredible."
Victoria ran to the closest power suit. "Mecha!"
"Each one has been personalized to your specifications," di Carlo said. "Obviously, the tallest one is for Lieutenant Pearson."
"That's why all those measurements were taken," Dominique said. "I was wondering why it took me longer than the others."
"Not too many tall women in Japan, Lieutenant."
"Darcy, when can we try them out?" Victoria asked.
Dominique nodded. "I have to agree with her, Lieutenant. I'd love to see how these things work."
Darcy turned to di Carlo. "When are we scheduled to take these out, sir?"
Di Carlo smiled. "You still have to be checked out on the controls, so, provisionally, this afternoon. I'll get you in for the last training this morning. In the meantime, go get breakfast."
In the cafeteria, Victoria could barely sit in her seat due to excitement. "Can you believe it? Mecha! Honest to life mecha!"
"So you keep saying," Renée said. She took a bite of her scrambled eggs. "Someone pass the ketchup, please?"
Dominique handed the bottle over to the redhead. "I wonder if they'll let me take a look under the hood?"
"I can look into it." Darcy sprinkled some pepper on her eggs. "Are you sure about the coffee?"
Renée nodded. "Trust me, Lieutenant, it is really bad." She poured ketchup over her breakfast.
Victoria took a long gulp of her coffee. "I don't see a problem with it."
"You have no taste."
Darcy held up her hands to prevent further sniping. "No more bickering today, okay? I don't want to separate you two."
Dominique dug into her breakfast. "Thanks. Okay, all those flight sims that we kept crashing in, those were meant to prepare us for flying those suits? I'm not exactly confident of my piloting. I mean, we never even flew a real helicopter."
"Bah!" Victoria waved her free hand is dismissal. "I know I can fly them. Wait, can they fly or just walk? I mean, if the invaders flew through space to get here, we'd be better off flying up to meet them instead of fighting them in the base itself."
Renée sighed. "You do know that you think too much, right, Tori?"
"She has a point," Darcy said.
"On the top of her head."
"Can I smack her for that?" Victoria asked. She set down her coffee mug.
"No one smacks anyone anymore. I'm the only one allowed to smack anyone." Darcy shook her head. "If we were trained to fly, then the power suits should be able to fly. Why else would they need a helicopter pilot? They could just get some infantry if they wanted people to walk."
"And what's this about protesting our name?" Victoria demanded.
"Says the twelve year old who couldn't stop laughing," Dominique answered.
Darcy ate a bite of her breakfast. "I asked Major di Carlo to put in a formal protest. She asked us to come up with a new name in the theme of national animals."
Renée thought for a moment. "We could be Moose Flight."
"Moose? Really?" Dominique shook her head no.
"I've got to go with Dom," Victoria said. "And what if the next flight is named Squirrel. We sound like Rocky and Bullwinkle villains."
Renée set down her fork. "Who?"
"What about Elk?" Darcy asked.
"Same problem as Moose," Dominique said. "Huge herbivores that get hit by cars. Next to Eagle and Tiger, we sound like the animals they're hunting."
"Besides, Beaver has a lot going for it," Victoria added. "Beavers build things, are on the nickel, are across Canada, and are cute. Just like us."
The rest of the team laughed. "Okay, that last one is a good reason," Darcy said. "Still, if we're protesting the name, shouldn't we change it?"
"No. I mean, the protest makes sense." Victoria took another gulp of coffee before continuing. "At the same time, the beaver is a great animal to be named after, outside the sexual innuendo. And that's not even as bad as the camel."
Renée stopped to think about the animal. "Oh, Tori, really? You really are twelve."
Victoria grinned. "If you go to any souvenir shop, what do you find? Beavers on everything. Beavers even on moose. And beavers have a decent plural. One beaver, two beavers. Meanwhile, one moose, two moose. Or one elk, two elk."
"I think elks is the plural," Dominique said.
"I thought it was the same word."
"It's either," Renée said. "You can use elk or elks."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm the linguist. Yes, I am sure."
Darcy tapped the table. "Okay, going off on a tangent. Back to the beaver, please."
"Right." Victoria cleared her throat. "Okay, now, beavers are known as being industrious, right? And, they can chew through small trees, which is far more impressive than an eagle's swoop. Plus, they're good at seeing danger and telling all the other animals around about it."
Renée nodded. "By slapping their tails."
Victoria smiled. "Exactly. And they've been used in heraldry as a symbol of industry and of medicine."
"Wait, heraldry?" Darcy took a sip of tea. "You know heraldry?"
"It's one of my many interests, yes."
"So, Grieg's suggesting that we don't change," Darcy said. "Any other suggestions?"
Dominique shrugged. "Well, actually, I see her point. The innuendo is annoying, but the rest of it is a decent symbol for us."
"Whatever," Renée said. "Better than Elk."
"Okay, no change. I'll let Major di Carlo know." A phone trilled. Darcy reached into her pocket. "Kincaid here. Thanks, I'll let them know." She hung up and put the phone back. "Eat up, ladies. We get our first look in a half-hour. Meet me back at the hangar then."
Beaver Flight milled around the briefing room. Victoria paced around the room to the annoyance of Renée. Dominique sat with a datatab, still reading over the specs of the power suits. Darcy kept an eye on the door while she made notes in her mini-tablet. Renée watched Victoria complete yet another lap around the room. "Would you sit down already?"
Victoria stopped her pacing to face Renée. "No." She blew a raspberry at the red haired Quebecoise.
"Lieutenant, did you see that?"
Darcy set down her mini-tablet. "Both of you, stand up at attention. Now!" Hearing the tone of their commander's voice, both women snapped into action to do what they were told. Dominique looked up from her datatab. "You, too, Pearson. Over with the others."
Dominique set down her datatab and joined Renée and Victoria. "Ma'am?"
Darcy walked in front of her command, looking each one in the eyes. "I don't want to know what started this outburst. This is the last one. I'm tired of the sniping. I'm tired of dealing with fights. We have to spend the bulk of our days in close proximity to each other now. You have a choice: Get along with each other; or, daily chores to get all that extra energy channelled somewhere else."
"But," Victoria started.
"I'm not done, Grieg." Darcy glowered at the physicist. "I understand that you're not really military. I understand that you were offered sweetheart deals to enlist. However, I expect you to act like adults and not like high school students. You, Grieg, aren't twelve anymore. Act like it. Lalonde!" Darcy switched her glare over to Renée.
"Grow a thicker skin. Don't let Grieg annoy you. Right now? She was walking. Everyone could see she's excited. Deal with it." Darcy turned back to Victoria. "Grieg, don't annoy Lalonde, especially on purpose." The Lieutenant stepped back. "Am I understood?"
Victoria nodded. Renée mumbled, "Yes, ma'am."
"I'm sorry, what was that? I didn't hear you."
"Yes, ma'am!" the two women chorused.
Darcy smiled. "That's more like it. Pearson?"
"Then as you were. Grieg, go fidget on the other side of the room from Lalonde, okay? Lalonde, go sit away from Grieg. Let's keep things peaceful for a moment." Darcy turned and returned to her seat. She kept her attention on her mini-tablet and, with deliberate focus, avoided looking up at her charges.
Dominique returned to her chair and datatab without a word. Victoria and Renée glared at each other for a moment before heading to opposite ends of the briefing room. Renée's chair scraped as she turned it to face away from her annoyance. Victoria ignored the slight as she sat down. She tapped her foot in time to a song that ran through her head.
After a few minutes that felt incredibly long to Darcy, the door to the briefing room opened. A woman in a Russian uniform entered, followed by two Asians, a man and a woman, in lab coats. Darcy set her mini-tablet down and stood up quickly. "Attention!" she bellowed. She was pleased to see the rest of her team obey and stand still.
The Russian approached Darcy. "As you were," she said. "Lieutenant Kincaid?"
"I'm Captain Galina Markova, Russian Federation Aerodefence Force. I'm the head engineer of Darkside One." Markova turned to the people behind her. "These are Doctors Satoshi Aoi and Reiko Takemori, lead developers and designers of the power suits." Aoi and Takemori bowed in turn. Renée and Victoria returned the bows. "Everyone, please, sit."
As she sat down, Victoria said, "I think Mr. Aoi is the first man I've seen here."
Darcy elbowed Victoria. "Grieg, not now."
"Lieutenant Grieg is correct," Markova said. "I'd appreciate it if no one said a word about his presence here. As it is, we're taking a huge risk having Dr. Aoi at Darkside One."
"I insisted on being here for the final fittings," Aoi explained. "We have never had to modify one to fit a woman so tall." He nodded at Dominique, who blushed. "Dr. Takemori and I had to start from the beginning. I hope you find the results ideal, Pearson-san."
"Thank you, Dr. Aoi." Dominique fiddled with her datatab. "I'd like to take a look at the designs, assuming I'm allowed."
Markova said, "I'm sure something can be arranged. However, it's time to get you into the suits. The sooner you're trained, the sooner you can be added to the patrol schedule and the sooner I can get back to the maintenance piling up."
Renée's eyes widened. Before she could say anything, Darcy said, "Thank you. Beaver Flight, let's go." The Lieutenant stood up. "After you, Captain, Doctors."
Captain Markova led the group in the hangar. As each of Beaver Flight passed her, she gave out personalized key tags. "These will only work on your own power suit," Markova explained. "If you must use someone else's, you'll find that the systems won't work as well." As she gave Dominique her tag, she added, "Or, you won't fit at all, which will make piloting the suit next to impossible."
Once Victoria received her tag, she clicked the small button. The running lights of a power suit flashed briefly. Victoria tore off towards the suit. Markova and Darcy watched the young physicist. "She's excitable," Darcy said. "She's been looking forward to getting since she saw it."
"I hope her enthusiasm translates to skill." Markova shook her head in disbelief.
Darcy walked towards her own power suit. "So do I," she said under her breath. "So do I."
The rest of Beaver Flight found their suits. Doctor Aoi helped Dominique settled into her suit, getting the buckles done on the legs and arms of her flight pressure suit. Doctor Takemori helped doing the same with Darcy, while engineers from Captain Markova's department took care of Renée and Victoria. Takemori brought up the command menu for Darcy, pointing out the pre-flight checklist for her. "Each step should be done, especially in training. However, Eagle and Bear flights have found shortcuts for emergencies and haven't passed the information to me. Try not to use shortcuts. Each step is important."
Darcy settled the oxygen helmet over her head. "I'll remember that." Once the helmet clicked into place, she gave Takemori the thumb's up. "Ready."
Takemori pointed at the checklist. "Go through that." She climbed down from the power suit.
Darcy read through the list, performing each step. Some steps, to her, seemed unnecessary, though she expected that the first time out of the hangar would prove her wrong. As she finished the list, she flicked on the power suit's radio. "Testing, testing," she said. "Beaver Flight command to Beaver Flight. Call in. Over."
"McGee, this is, oh, do I have to use that call sign?" Dominique answered. "I hated it when I played basketball."
"Dominatrix, this is McGee," Darcy said. "I don't like 'McGee', either. Let's just get this done."
"Geek calling in." The radio couldn't hide the glee Victoria's voice. "Can we go now?"
"Princess here," Renée said. "As ready as I can be."
"Good. On my mark, we'll walk these suits down to the hangar doors."
"Walk?" Victoria said. "McGee, these things have thrusters. We can fly!"
"Geek, I want to make sure you can walk before you fly."
"Yes, McGee." Victoria sighed.
Darcy brought her suit's power up to half. "And, mark!" She brought her suit to a fully erect position. The power suit swayed a little as it left its docking port. Darcy adjusted herself, trying to balance the oversized space suit. After some wobbling, she had the power suit walking towards the hangar doors. The scope on her holographic heads-up display showed the rest of Beaver Flight getting their suits moving and the support crew running back through the airlocks. Darcy shifted inside her suit. For a new piece of equipment, she found the ergonomics comfortable already, without needing major adjustments. The controls reacted to her precise movements; the balance precarious but manageable if Darcy kept her concentration. Red warning lights strobed through her viewer as warnings sounded inside the hangar. "Okay, Beaver Flight, this is it. Let's see what these babies can do."
"This is awesome!"
"Ma'am, I am having problems keeping this beast upright."
"I'm hit! I'm hit!"