"Beaver Flight command to Beaver Flight. Call in. Over."
"McGee, these things have thrusters. We can fly!"
"Walk? We can fly!"
"Okay, Beaver Flight, this is it. Let's see what these babies can do."
Chapter 4 - A Giant Step
May 18, 2128
As the outer hangar doors opened, Darcy looked out on the lunar landscape in awe. The long shadows from the sun creeping down in its long setting created harsh distinction between craters. Data crawled along the bottom of Darcy's holo-HUD, giving her a direction. "Beaver Flight, form up and follow me." She heard her team's acknowledgements as they called in, then pivoted her power suit on its heel to turn it in the right direction.
The first step on the moon's surface landed with a satisfying thud that echoed through the suit. Darcy had to smile; her one dream, to be assigned to a lunar base. Not the base she's expected, but being on the moon was still being on the moon for her. A small cloud of dust floated up under her suit's foot. She picked up the pace, bringing her power suit to a swift walk. On her scope, the rest of the team kept up and in formation. The drills were starting to take hold.
Over the radio, Victoria whooped with pure delight. "This is awesome!" she bellowed.
"Geek, this is McGee," Darcy radioed. "Watch the volume there."
"And Geek?" Darcy added. "You're right. This is awesome! Okay, let's pick up the pace. How are you guys at running?" The young Lieutenant opened the throttle more, pushing her suit into a sprint. The controls just felt natural to Darcy, similar to the ones she used flying helicopters in Trenton. The only difference was a lack of wind through her hair through an open door.
Behind Darcy, the rest of Beaver Flight struggled to keep up. Dominique had her power suit in a stumbling trot over the lunar terrain. Victoria bounded over the landscape while Renée kept at a walking pace. On Darcy's holo-HUD, a path highlighted in green appeared. "Beaver Flight, this is McGee. We're getting close to the proving grounds." She eased up on her suit's speed. "Remember, this is our best chance to fine tune our suits. Take your time here. We've got more than enough fuel and oxygen to get back to the hangar."
Victoria caught up to Darcy. "That was fun! I can't wait to try out the thrusters, McGee!"
"Baby steps, Geek. Baby steps. Make sure you can walk and shoot first, okay?" Darcy shook her head.
Dominique trotted into the proving grounds and slowed to a stop. "Still some kinks to work out. I couldn't get out of second gear, or whatever they call it. I need to extend my foot a little more and I didn't have the space for it."
Darcy opened a file with her onboard computer. "I'll make a note of it, Dominatrix. McGee to Princess, how far away are you?"
"Princess here. Ma'am, I am having problems keeping this beast upright. It keeps trying to go right when I want to go straight."
"Darkside Control to Beaver Flight, this is Doctor Takemori. That's an alignment problem. We've seen that in a third of all units sent. It's an easy adjustment at the hangar, but your pilot needs to keep things slow for now."
"Copy that, Darkside Control," Darcy acknowledged. "Princess, you heard that?"
"I heard it, McGee," Renée said. "Should I return now?"
"Negative, Princess," Takemori said. "The problem won't affect your assigned training mission, just getting back to the hangar."
Renée sighed over the radio. "Understood."
Poor girl, Darcy thought. She's not cut out for being here. "Okay, team, pick up your weapon from the cabinet. Pick a target, and take aim. The good doctors want to see how accurate you are with their aiming package. Here's as good an area as any, and there won't be any wind to push your aim off, unlike on Earth. Geek, no hotdogging it. Got me?"
"Beaver Flight, go." Darcy walked her power suit to the weapons cabinet and picked up a training rifle. The feedback through the suit's arms made the weapon feel like the rifle she trained with in basic at the Royal Military College. Looking down at it through the suit's cameras, though, she could see that it was as long as she was tall. She raised her suit's arms to check out the weapon closer. "Impressive," she murmured.
"McGee, this is Dominatrix, what was that?"
"Nothing. Disregard." Darcy felt her cheeks grow warm. She lowered her suit's arms. "Geek, Dom, go ahead to the firing range and follow the instructions that appear on your HUD. I'll wait for Princess."
"McGee, you don't have to wait for me," Renée said. "I'm almost there."
Darcy watched Victoria and Dominique as they grabbed their rifles and strode to the range. "Princess, it's the commander's duty to make sure everyone reaches the objective. Don't try to rush, either, okay?"
"Thanks, McGee." Darcy could hear the relief in Renée's voice. "I'm going to need a proper shower after this, though."
"We'll do what we can."
Renée manhandled her power suit into the proving grounds. Darcy handed her one of the oversized rifles, then walked with her to the range. Victoria was well into the instructions, firing while lying her suit prone on the ground. "Let's not show off too much, Geek. We don't want to make the other flights jealous."
"The aiming programs are working properly," Victoria said.
"Dom," Darcy said, "how about you?"
Dominique crouched her power suit down. "It's working. I think my suit will need adjusting for my height."
"That's why we're here, Dom. Take your time. That goes for you, too, Geek. Don't rush the instructions."
Renée brought her suit to a stop and sighted in. She fired, a thin red beam lancing out and tagging a target five hundred metres away. "Are we really using lasers?" she asked.
Doctor Takemori answered, "Just for now. When reviewed the recording Lieutenant Emelin made, we saw that her team's bullets did some damage to the aliens' armour, though not enough to penetrate. Since they didn't appear on any of the LIDAR scans, we're assuming that they can absorb laser emissions."
"Let me translate for you, Princess," Victoria said. "The aliens mecha absorb light. Laser is really intense light."
"I understood perfectly well, Geek." Renée's tone turned icy.
"Just making sure."
Renée turned her power suit in place and shot at Victoria's with the training rifle. The laser hit Victoria's head dead on.
"Geek, Princess, enough," Darcy admonished. "Back to testing, both of you." She walked her suit into the remaining bay and started running through the instructions that came up on screen. Darcy recorded the results, both where the suit said the gun was pointing and the coordinate that was actually hit. There was a minor difference between the values, enough to warrant some work, but not enough for Darcy to be worried. As she progressed, she brought the suit down to a kneeling position, taking her time with each shot to make sure that she didn't bring any user error into the mix.
After about fifteen minutes of practice, an Australian accent called out, "Contact!" over the radio. Darcy brought her suit back up, ready to move. "Three bogeys, alien configuration, inbound at zero three zero mark two five."
"Darkside Control to Beaver Flight, return to base. Repeat, return to base."
"Beaver Flight Actual, acknowledged." Darcy backed her power suit out of her bay. "You heard her. Let's get going."
"Roo One, Roo Three. Two more appearing!"
"Copy that Roo Three."
"Kangaroo Flight, this is Darkside Control. Eagle Flight is suiting up. Time to launch is three minutes."
"McGee, I can get there faster," Victoria said.
"Roo One, I've got a bogey on my tail!"
"Negative, Geek. We have our orders to return to base. We also lasers at low power. They're useless."
"Roo Two, go help Roo Four."
"No buts, Geek." Darcy knew what Victoria was going through and what she was thinking. "What can you do up there? Point your gun and shout, 'Bang, you're dead'?"
"I'm hit! I'm hit!"
"Anyone, this is Roo Two, got the bogey. It's running. Roo Four looks bad, though."
"Roo Two, Roo One, We have four more bogeys. Roo Four, return to base."
"Darcy, we can help her." Victoria triggered her suit's thrusters. "I can help her if you won't."
"Geek! Grieg, get back here!" Darcy slammed her hand on a strut. "Dom, help Princess get back to the hangar. Don't go too fast; her suit's not working right." She feathered the controls for her thrusters. The leap into space pushed her into the acceleration padding.
"Beaver Flight, this is Darkside Control, avoid the battle ground. Repeat, avoid the battle ground."
"Roo one, this is Roo Four. I have no power. I can't feel my arm." The pilot choked back a sob. "Tell my family I love them."
"Acknowledged, Control," Darcy said. She locked on to Roo Four's signal. "Geek, sending you coordinates. If you're going to disobey an order, you'll bloody well do it right."
"Got them, McGee"
Ahead of her, Darcy saw the thruster banks on Victoria's suit flare. Darcy kicked in another burst to escape the moon's pull. "Control, this is Beaver One. How long until Eagle Flight gets in the fight?"
"ETA two minutes."
"Roo Two, Roo Three, get that bogey in a crossfire!"
"McGee, I see her. She's falling and missing an arm."
Darcy cursed under her breath. She scanned her scope, trying to pick out the aliens from Kangaroo flight. One of the symbols for the aliens winked out.
"Roo Two, did you see where that one went?"
"McGee, need your help here."
"Coming." Darcy kept her thrusters firing as she closed in on Victoria and the damaged Kangaroo. Electrical sparks shot from wires severed and dangling from the remains of Roo Four's left arm.
Victoria manoeuvred her power suit to below the plummeting Austrailian. Cushioning the damaged suit with her own, she applied her own thrusters to slow the suits' fall. Darcy reached the pair and took position at Roo Four's legs. She tossed away her rifle to grab the legs of the damaged suit. "Got her, Geek."
"Try to match my thruster burns," Victoria said. "I'll give the count. In three, two, one, burn." Victoria and Darcy both fired their suits' thrusters. "Good. Let's bring her down slow."
The pair of Canadians managed to get the damaged suit into the hangar's airlock. Overhead, the remainder of Kangaroo Flight was joined by Eagle Flight to put chase to the invading aliens. Once the internal pressure was equalized, emergency medical technicians dashed out. Engineers and mechanics had cutting tools standing by. Darcy backed her suit out of the way, then opened the clam shell hatch to get out. She spotted Dominque and Renée standing near the door to the briefing room. Darcy looked around. Victoria's power suit was crouched down, its own hatch open; the woman herself was climbing down from it.
Darcy strode over to her charge. "Grieg, do you ever listen to anyone?"
"We rescued her. We may have saved her life." Victoria turned to walk over to the rescue scene.
Darcy grabbed Victoria's shoulder and pulled her around. "There's a reason why we were told to return to base. You flew into a battle zone unarmed and in an untested vehicle. You could've been killed."
"Geez, what is your problem? While you were following orders, I save her life! Doesn't that count for anything?"
"It means you got lucky, Grieg. That could just as easily be you getting cut out."
"So I'm supposed to sit on the side? Is that it?" Victoria glared at her commanding officer.
Darcy took a deep breath and counted to five before answering. "Look, Tori, I know exactly how you felt out there. Don't you think it was killing me to have to come back here? But I have to also look out for you, Renée, and Dom and make sure that I don't have to tell your family that you loved them because you never went back home from here. Don't put me in a spot again where you go off half cocked. Do you understand me?"
The two women stood staring at each other for a long moment. "I understand," Victoria said, sounding more subdued.
"Thank you." Darcy closed her eyes for a second. "Now go see how Roo Four is then get cleaned up. You've got an hour break."
Victoria ran off without a word back to where the damaged Australian power suit lay. Darcy watched for a moment before turning and walking towards the briefing room. As she entered, Renée and Dominique swarmed towards her. "You're letting her walk away?" Renée asked.
"Not now, Lalonde."
"Lieutenant," Dominique began, "I'm sure Tori meant well."
"Not now, either of you." Darcy sat on the edge of the room's large table. "This isn't a democracy. I talked to Grieg and now I'm talking to you. You both have an hour off. Use it to clean up, get changed, and rest."
"But—" Renée stuttered.
Darcy levelled a glowering look at the Quebecoise. "If you finish that sentence, you'll be cleaning our bathroom for a month."
Renée closed her mouth then turned on her heel. She stormed out of the briefing room. Dominique joined Darcy on the desk. "Ma'am, if you need to talk," she offered.
"Thanks. I just need to go work off steam." Darcy patted the taller woman's leg. "Go get some rest. At least stretch out a little."
Dominique stood up and walked out of the room, leaving Darcy behind.
"Command isn't easy."
"Neither is letting someone die."