"I was visiting Peri. The doctors said that she doesn't have to lose her arm."
"That's what we're in for here. Boredom punctuated by absolute terror."
"Any chance that they'll bring up men once a month or two?"
"However, next time, we will be working as a team. No unnecessary heroics."
Chapter 6 - First Patrol
May 19, 2128
"Beaver Flight, this is McGee. Check in as you're ready to launch."
"Geek here. Everything's green."
"Dominatrix checking in. All good, even foot space. I should be able to run today."
Darcy waited half a minute before asking, "Princess, any trouble?"
"Princess here. Just about, no, wait, got it."
"Princess, what was the problem?" Darcy asked.
"Slow startup, McGee. Everything's in the green."
"Keep an eye on it, Princess. Once we get the signal, we head out and join Kangaroo Flight in their patrol."
Outside Darcy's power suit, the lights in the hangar changed from normal lighting to red. Darcy blinked several times to adjust her eyesight to the new light levels. On her holo-HUD, the external pressure gauge began to drop as air was removed from the hangar. A few seconds after the outside pressure read nil, the launch chime sounded over the radio. "Go go go!" Darcy yelled as she set out in her power suit.
Beaver Flight trotted out of the hangar and into the lunar landscape. Puffs of dust flew up and slowly settled back down as the suits tromped outside. Darcy led her team several hundred metres away from Darkside One before firing her thrusters. One by one, the rest of Beaver Flight followed. Victoria let off a victory cry as she pirouetted her suit into the lunar sky.
"Okay, Geek-girl, very fancy," Darcy said. "Now if you'll fall back into formation so we can go meet Kangaroo Flight before they start wondering about us, you'd make me very happy."
"Falling into formation, McGee." The glee in Victoria's voice couldn't be hidden by the radio. "Happy?"
"Ecstatic." Darcy feathered the thruster control, adding an extra oomph to her current velocity. She switched over to the Australians' frequency. "Beaver Flight to Kangaroo Flight. ETA is ten minutes. Anything exciting today?"
"Beaver Flight, you've got Kylie." The woman's accent exuded charm. "Good on ya. I was thinking we'd pair off, with me taking on two of you."
"Kylie, this is McGee. Sounds like a great plan. I'll get the rest of the Beavers in on this frequency to get introductions over with."
A muffled giggle sounded over the radio. "Oi, you lot. Be polite for a change. McGee, can't wait to hear from the rest of your flight."
Darcu switched back to the Beaver's frequency. "All right, ladies. Kangaroo Flight is eager to make your acquaintance. Their going to pair up with each of us. Mind, because they're down one suit, two of will have to double up. Geek, you'll be with me. I'm sending you their frequency. Switch over to it now. Wait for my call in before introducing yourselves." The Lieutenant waited a few seconds for squawks of protest before switching back to the Australian channel.
"—care, Shrieker, just try to hold it in until we're back on the ground."
"Kangaroo, this is McGee. The rest of my flight should be checking in."
"Princess, I think I've got the right channel."
"You do, Princess," Darcy said. "Geek are you there?"
"Beaver Flight, I'm Kylie, the girl in charge of the Roos. Geek, I understand that you're the one who went after Pipsqueak. Thanks."
"Anytime," Victoria said. "How is she doing today?"
"She's still high on the meds the docs have her on. But, she at least knows where she is. So, McGee, how do you want to do this?"
"Geek and I will join you, if that's all right, Kylie. Princess and Dominatrix can go one on one with the rest of your flight."
"Shrieker, wave so that Dominatrix can see you. Koala, drop on the zed twenty metres so Princess can join you. McGee, you should be able to figure out who I am after that."
Darcy watched the Australian pilots obey their orders, then saw Renée and Dominique join them. Victoria's thrusters fired briefly, letting her outpace Darcy for a few seconds before the commander could react. As they closed in on Kylie's power suit, they fired their forward mounted thrusters and angled their legs to slow down. "Kylie, this McGee. Geek and I are ready."
"Good. McGee, Geek, follow me."
"So, Dominatrix," Shrieker said as the Canadian neared. "Is that some sort of ironic nickname or is it something else."
Dominique sighed. "I got the name when I played basketball. I towered over everyone else and some dumb-ass on the school newspaper gave me the name. Really embarrassing when the parents were in town to watch a game."
"Embarrassing I can related to. Hence my callsign. So, how much time have you had in your suit?"
"I think I can say an hour by now. Still getting the feel for it. I hope there won't be another attack like yesterday."
"There shouldn't. The invaders, they don't press their advantage. I think there's been half a dozen attacks since we came up here five months ago."
Dominique angled her power suit to face Shrieker's. "What are they after?"
"No idea. I don't think the Regular Army types know, either. They keep bringing up expert after expert without a clue of what they really need. Me, I've got a doctorate in computer hardware and software. I guess if they actually capture one of these aliens, they want me to dissect their spacesuits. What about you? What's your expertise?"
"Aerospace engineer, complete with doctorate but no ring." Dominique smirked. "I guess they'll want me to go over the spacesuits to see how they work."
"That's the thing, though. The aliens don't stick around long enough to take down. Even if we do manage to tag one, they just escort their comrade back as they pull out."
"Must get annoying," Dominique said.
"You should've heard Yulya when she nailed two a few months back. The aliens retreated and she was determined to chase them. Saner heads got through to her, but she was a right bitch for a week afterward."
"Wasn't Yulya the survivor from the early invasions? Like, the only one left on her team?"
"She was. I don't think anyone expected her to be out for blood, though." Shrieker began a slow forty-five degree turn in front of Dominique. "Time to change course. The Lieutenant prefers that we zigzag a bit. Helps to keep us from drifting too far apart. And, if you look in that direction, you'll get a wonderful view of home."
Dominique made the turn. The Earth slipped into view in front of her, the Pacific Ocean a brilliant blue reflecting the sun's light. "Amazing," Dominique breathed.
"It's not the same as seeing the pictures, is it? I mean, it's out there, for real."
"And here we are, above it, protecting everyone down there from a threat they don't even know exists. But it's good to see home, even if it's a few million kilometres away."
Renée held her hand over the thruster control, not trusting her power suit to remain on its current vector. Ahead of her, Koala coasted through space, her power suit showing up as a blue blip on Renée's holo-HUD. "Do we have to go this fast?" she said, trying to keep the fear in her voice tamped down.
"Trust me, Princess. I've done this a few times. We'll pick up a bit of speed and save ourselves some fuel. They don't say so back at Darkside One, but they have no problems with us bringing back unused gas. Saves them from having to ship more in."
"If you say so."
"If it helps, focus your scanning ahead and above the plane. That's where we should be looking after yesterday."
Renée redirected her radar and lidar scanning as Koala said. The lack of response from the moon below her steadied her nerves a little. "Do you think about what's outside of your suit?"
"If I did that, I'd never get in the bloody thing, would I?" Koala laughed, a light trill. "You can't worry about failures, Princess. If you did, you'd drive yourself mad. Then you'd be stuck up here until they can figure out a way to sedate you long enough to get you back Earthside. In the meantime, the doctors would just drug you to the gills so you couldn't hurt anyone. You don't want any of that."
"Has that happened?"
"Not since Roo Flight got here, but I heard stories, rumours, that one of the first crew ran into that problem. Apparently, they forgot to test her for claustrophobic tendencies. But, if she was okay to get into an elevator, then who knew, right? So, are you claustrophobic?"
Renée gave a half-hearted laugh. "Not yet. I'll keep an eye on it, though."
"You'll be fine. Listen, once we're done our patrol, let me treat you to proper coffee. Not the crap that the mess has, either, but decent stuff. My parents sent me a care package, which finally got her last week. They know coffee. They run a café in Adelaide, so sending me some choice stuff from time to time isn't a problem." Koala sighed. "I miss them."
"I understand. I miss my family, too."
"Where's your family from? I've been to Canada a couple of times, mostly Banff for the skiing."
"Montréal," Renée answered. "And not one of the suburbs, but the city herself. You have old Europe and modern North America side by side. And then you have the waterfront. I used to love going there with friends on weekends just to see what sort of trouble we could find."
"I'd love to go there after this. Hey, if I've been to the moon, I can be arsed to see more of the Earth when I get home."
"I think I want to stay on the ground after this. No offence, but I'm beginning to hate heights, and that's one hell of a height down right now."
"You'll get used to it." Koala sent a ping out with her lidar. "To distract you for a bit, Beaver Flight? Really?"
"Oh, please, don't start." Renée feathered her thrusters, sending her up a little off her current vector. "It wasn't our idea, we would've protested if we had known. I mean, really, an all woman squad called 'Beaver'? Between the the Girl Guides and the lady parts, it is embarrassing."
"Like a kangaroo is fearsome." Koala barked a short laugh. "Bleeding pests, really. We're trying to get our name changed, too. How does 'Drop Bears' sound to you?"
Renée looked out at the surrounding space. "I don't think I'd want the word 'drop', thanks."
"You've never heard of Australia's carnivorous koalas?"
"I've never seen you eat."
Koala laughed again, this time a hearty though squeaky roar. "Good one. You know, Princess, you just have to get used to being up here. It takes time. It took me a few weeks to adjust to the new gravity and being all military. Hey, what's your rank anyway? I'm a Pilot Officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. Nice and fancy, that."
Renée closed her eyes for a moment as the moon drifted into view on her holo-HUD. "Sublieutenant, Royal Canadian Navy. Apparently, our armed forces works together on secret missions a lot."
"Sublieutenant. Go figure, huh? I'm learning a lot about stuff I'd never thought about before."
"I'm going to be happy just pretending that everything on the base works perfectly and never, ever breaks down."
"Princess, you're going to go mad. I can introduce you to a few people who can help you with your fears."
"Oh, don't mind me. I'm not an engineer or a hard science person. I was brought in because of my doctoral work in linguistics. Okay, I picked up a bit of math to understand how the computer people look at languages, but I tend to ask them the hard questions when I need to."
"So, how many languages do you know?"
"Four well, and a smattering of another half dozen, enough to find bathrooms and bars in major cities."
"Hell, that's better than most of my mates who have trouble with just English."
Renée tittered. "Some of my best friends from school had the same problem for different reasons. I've seemed to always have a knack for languages. And don't say that I'm cunning. I had enough of that in my training."
Koala laughed. "Wasn't going to say a word. Might want to avoid telling Shrieker, though. She'd jump right on that. At least you're a woman, so that saves you from being jumped on by her."
"Are you sure? You've been up here five months."
Darcy angled her power suit, adjusting her vector to spread out away from Victoria's. Kylie remained the vertex. "Okay, Kylie, I've got a radar lock on you and on Geek. Now what?"
"Keep going until you lose either myself or Geek. Geek, same thing, except with McGee."
"You're getting us to expand our range without falling out of contact," Victoria said.
"She's a bright one, her."
"Isn't she just?" Darcy let her thrusters die out, allowing her momentum to keep her going at a steady pace. "How far can you get with this?"
"We don't go past a couple hundred klicks," Kylie answered. "If we go too far out, it'll take too long to either return to Darkside One or get out to help if there's a problem. In theory, though, pushing the limits, we might be able to do a couple thousand kilometres, give or take. It'll take the pilot on the pointy end past the point of no return."
"Good to know." Darcy checked her sensor read outs. "Geek, do you still have me in range?"
"Sure do, McGee. Still strong, too."
"Try opening your throttles wide open for five seconds," Kylie suggested. "That should speed things up."
"Sure. Geek, on my mark. In three, two, one, mark." Darcy pushed her thrusters to their limit. In her peripheral vision, she saw Victoria's thrusters glow white hot. "Counting down. Five. Four. Three. Geek, keep it steady. Two. One. Cut now!" The Lieutenant killed her thrusters. The dull roar that had filled her helmet died, leaving the sudden silence deafening. "Geek, report."
"—ere you are. Lost laser contact with you," Victoria said. "I'm here. And, yes, I'll tell people when we get back that the laser didn't track properly. I heard you fine, though."
"I still have a lock on you both," Kylie said. "While you drift, care to tell me where you got your call signs from? Geek, I have a hunch about you."
Victoria giggled. "Your hunch is right. A big old geek, that's me."
"I can vouch for that," Darcy said.
"What about you, McGee? Seems like an odd name."
"Not if you know Canadian history, Kylie. One of our Prime Ministers was D'Arcy McGee. Only one assassinated, too."
"Bummer of a name, then."
"Not really. I've been to the pub named after him near where he died. Decent enough beer and food, though pricy. Tourist area, though. So, what about you? Why 'Kylie'?"
"I share the same last name as a singer from over a hundred years ago. In flight school, one of my classmates still listened to the Oldies and made the connection. Could be worse, like Shrieker."
"I don't want to know. I'm already trying hard to not imagine." Darcy checked her sensors. "Geek, you're starting to fade."
"Copy that, McGee. You're starting to get hard to see from here. I still have a good lock on Kylie."
"I still have you both on screen," Kylie said. "Up to you whether you want to go further out."
"McGee? I'm good if you are."
"Not right now," Darcy said. "We'll practise this with the rest of Beaver Flight when we patrol on our own. This way, if someone gets into trouble, one of us can help her out."
"Good thinking, McGee," Victoria said. "I wouldn't mind seeing just how far out we can get, though."
"Another time, Geek, another time."
"Hey, you two. Darkside Control is calling us in. Time to go home. I'll tell the others."
Back at Darkside One, Darcy led Beaver Flight back into the hanger. Once the hangar pressurized, the women jumped out of their power suits and changed back into their uniform coveralls. Darcy dismissed the team after a quick debrief, making sure that Victoria made her report about her laser communication system.
Renée darted out of the briefing room, relieved at getting back into the relative safety of the base. She kept her pace to a brisk walk once out in the corridors. She passed a few other women, some of whom saluted. Renée tried to salute back, still not used to the ritual despite the six month training on Earth. As she rounded a corner to head deeper into the complex, she heard, "Oi, you Princess?" behind her.
When she turned around, Renée saw a diminutive Asian woman in the uniform of the Royal Australian Air Force. "Koala?"
"That's me." The tiny woman caught up to Renée and offered her hand. "The name's Hue Ng."
Renée shook Hue's hand. "Renée Lalonde."
"I still owe you that coffee I promised."
"Sure." Renée followed the tiny Aussie through the base, heading down a level towards the machine rooms. "Are we allowed down here?" the Quebecoise asked.
"No one said we can't," Hue answered. "I don't think any of the other pilots do come down here. Nothing here to interest them. And the rest of the staff doesn't care as long as I don't muck anything up. It's win-win, really. And, if I do run into trouble, I can bribe with good coffee."
"You could get whatever you wanted if anyone else knew you had it."
"Yeah, but what I want is decent coffee." Hue grinned. "Besides, you seem to need a place you can disappear to. Get away from everyone."
Renée nodded. "Yeah, I could use that. At least get away from one of my squad mates."
"You could say that." Renée sighed.
Hue patted Renée's arm. "It's like that with all the teams here. The Russians have Lieutenant Emelin. The Yanks have each other. Hell, we Roos have Shrieker. And with Peri out of action for a bit, well, it gets a little harder to deal with the twat. So, Kylie, our boss, lets us escape each other after a patrol. Looks like your leader is doing the same thing."
"I think Lieutenant Kincaid wants to get away from us, too."
Hue pulled Renée down a side corridor and stopped in front of a door. She twirled her finger. "Turn around. No one's getting my lock combination."
Renée smiled and turned her back on Hue. "Considering you basically have roasted gold in there, I can't blame you." She heard the lock click open. "Is it safe now?"
"You can look now."
Renée turned back around. In the room, she saw a small pile of packages of coffee, a coffee maker, a stack of magazines, a couch, and a cot. "How did you arrange this?"
"Amazing what you can get for asking, especially if you ask the right way. I mentioned I needed a quiet place to meditate." Hue shrugged. "No one asked why. Come in!"
Renée followed Hue inside. She ran a finger along a coffee package. "I am in awe already."
"Wait." Hue opened a package and took a deep breath as the aroma escaped. "Ah. Much needed. And, I have a small library that's off the record."
"Off the record?" Renée reached down for a magazine. "Innuendo?"
"Vintage issues, too, before it went electronic only."
"Why off the record?"
"There's a few things not allowed, but not officially banned," Hue explained. "But, with the Yanks and the Russians controlling what gets up here, both physically and electronically, we get stuck with their hang ups. Nudity for one. Explicit nudity, especially. Alcohol is also not allowed, but it takes up a lot of mass and we don't have any way of making our own booze. So, part of the care packages from home are from my sister, who knows where to find the good stuff." Hue picked up a magazine. "Now, this isn't the greatest, but it's also not as well known." She flopped down on the couch. "It gets through because the cover looks more like an entertainment rag. And, well, I like giving my imagination a work out."
Renée smiled. "I have to remember that trick. Unfortunately, no sisters. And no cool aunt, either."
"Mind, I am from Montréal. Something like this," Renée picked up a magazine and waved it, "is nothing compared to what I can get back home by knowing where to look."
"Cut me in and I'll let you take a couple of the magazines with you today."
Renée smiled. "Done."
"All I'm saying, Darcy, is that—"
Darcy cut Victoria off. "Ah ah! Either Lieutenant or McGee right now, Geek. You're with me, I'm on duty, therefore you're on duty. And did you get your report in about communications?"
Victoria sighed. "Yes, McGee. But--"
"Good. Shouldn't you be getting cleaned up or hitting the mess or something?"
"I want to talk to you about extending our range."
"I know." Darcy stopped mid-stride, forcing Victoria to come up short. "Geek, I'm sure you think you're sure about the idea. In fact, I know you're sure about it. However, each of us has only logged less than ten hours of flight time in the power suits. That's not a lot. They didn't let me touch a helicopter until I had a lot more flight time in a training craft. You and Dom and Princess, you're nowhere near that."
"What if I worked out the numbers? I can show that it's safe. Safer than spreading out."
Darcy nodded. "Sure. Work out the numbers. Just remember to take into account our skill levels. I might be a decent pilot, but it's not exactly a Heron I'm flying out there. Heron's are bigger beasts and don't take off like a jackrabbit when I touch the accelerator."
Victoria grinned. "I can have that by lights out tonight."
"Tomorrow morning. I want time to read over your report and check your numbers."
"Fine, tomorrow morning. And the numbers won't lie." Victoria dashed off down the corridor.
Darcy shook her head in amazement. Despite the full patrol shift, Victoria still had energy to burn. The power of madness, the Lieutenant supposed. She returned to her walking, heading to the mess hall to grab dinner. A small crowd milled about, some in line, some already eating, others just taking the opportunity to socialize. Darcy joined the line, grabbing a tray and hoping for the best with the printed meal. Another woman joined her in the line. Darcy glanced back and recognized Major di Carlo. "Ma'am," she greeted.
"It's dinner time," di Carlo said. "It's Joan. I know, not maintaining discipline, but the mess is a 'no ranks' area. It gives everyone, especially the ex-civilians, a place to relax."
Darcy relaxed a little. "Joan, then." The line shuffled its way forward. "Call me Darcy or McGee."
"That's the spirit." Di Carlo chuckled. "I never expected a psychology degree to land me up here. Normally, moon landings are in the hands of the hard science types."
"I never thought I'd get here in my lifetime," Darcy said. "Always dreamt about it, but didn't qualify for jet training." She shrugged. "But, here I am, too. Just getting used to it still."
"You haven't been here long. Give it a week or two."
Darcy nodded. She looked over at the offerings. "What do you recommend?"
"We're still trying to figure out how to print a proper chicken breast, so avoid the cutlets. The beef is usually good. Vegetables, well, they're bland and tasteless, but that's not really a surprise."
"I'll keep that in mind." Darcy peered at the listed soups of the day. "Vegetable soup?"
"Reconstituted from dehydrated plant stock sent up. Doesn't go bad. Doesn't get good. Soup's decent, though. The dehydrated ice cream is manna from heaven, though."
"My one weakness. No gardens here?"
Di Carlo shook her head no. "The soil only arrived six weeks ago. A few people volunteered to set up the garden, but water rationing makes it difficult to keep anything growing. I think the engineering staff is working on a solution there, trying to find a way to squeeze as much out of the system as we can. Of course, they also want us to snag a comet if one passes our way."
Darcy laughed. "I'll keep an eye out for one when I'm out on patrol."
"Good, good." The Major let Darcy pick out her dinner before continuing, "I hope Beaver Flight fits in here. Having another set of eyes will make it easier on all of us. I might be able to arrange at least a day off in a proper rotation now. Some of the girls here have been flying patrols since day one here. They could use some down time."
Darcy sorted out her tray and grabbed a set of utensils. "That's over a year. I'm surprised none of them cracked."
"Truthfully? It's hard to tell with some of them. We make do with whatever we have, add luxuries despite the mass, even run friendly tournaments of just about anything we can." Di Carlo shrugged. "But, if we can get Panda Flight . . ." The Major trailed off. "Big if, that. Unless you have any news about China?"
"They're still insular right now, or at least when we lifted off." Darcy let Major di Carlo find a table, then sat down across from her. "But if the Japanese are building the suits, why aren't there any pilots from Japan?"
Di Carlo blew the steam from a spoonful of soup. "Technically, the two doctors we have aren't from the Self Defence Force. They're on loan from Nissan's robotics division."
"Nissan has a robotics division?" Darcy cut her slice of artificial roast beef into smaller pieces.
"That has been everyone's reaction to the news. Nissan keeps their robotics at an arm's length from their transportation side, from what I understand. Oh, hot." Di Carlo set down her spoon. "I keep telling the cooks they don't need to boil the soup once it's ready." She took a sip of water.
Darcy ate a mouthful of beef. She let it linger over her taste buds before swallowing. "Not bad. I've had worse." She popped another bite before continuing. "So, Nissan knows about the mission."
"Not all of the company. I think the exec board, the design team, and maybe a handful of others. Their internal security is better than ours, so secret remains secret."
"Probably not my place to ask, but, what if the mission got leaked? We're up here defending and we're beyond just NATO."
Di Carlo stopped cutting her chicken cutlets. "First, the outcry from the deception would be loud. Several elements would demand that we try diplomacy, even though the aliens don't stick around long enough for use to even figure out how they communicate and though they've killed a few dozen humans already. Second, there are still places that feel women should be in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, and, frankly, not all of it is in the Middle East. Add on top of that all the countries that will want their military as part of the mission. We're barely able to coordinate supply runs right now. We add people carefully, making sure that we can balance our air, our water, and our food. A sudden influx of people means we'd take a hit to our supplies."
"It'd allow a rotation of pilots, though," Darcy pointed out. "It'd be a hell of a lot better than running flights on long daily patrols."
"But who would we get?" Di Carlo waved her fork in the general vicinity of the mess hall. "Look around. Not one person here with a mismatched pair of chromosomes. That goes for all of Darkside One, except for Doctor Aoi. And we're damned careful when talking about him when we get in touch with the ISS. As in, no first name, no pronouns. Your command showed you the clip from Yulya's space suit, yes?"
"They did, yes. Including . . ." Darcy set down her fork. "Including when the aliens took the bodies away, theirs and ours, except Yulya."
Di Carlo nodded. "And, I'll let you in on another secret. The crew of the first lunar base, the scene of the first invasion? Had a woman on staff. She's still missing."
Darcy ran through the video clip recovered from Yulya's space suit in her head. "Christ. They hit Yulya, but they never killed her. They weren't trying to kill anyone."
"Sounds like a bad movie, doesn't it?" Di Carlo returned to her meal. "Just don't tell anyone else. Flight commanders and senior staff know, but that's it."
"Yes, ma'am, er, Joan."
Dominique stretched out on the blanket she laid on the floor of her shared quarters. The work out she'd had after returning to Darkside One worked out some tension in her muscles; her power suit still didn't fit quite right, but readjusting to a fine detail seemed counter-productive to her. Once the padding in the suit moulded to her a little more, she'd be more comfortable. In the meantime, she'd workout when she needed.
The lanky blonde picked up the remote for the room's holo-display. She flipped through the offerings, skipping over old holovised remakes of science fiction movies and reruns of soap operas. Dominique paused when she heard the chatter from the control room come over the speakers. She settled back against the wall, legs stretched out, and picked up her datatab. She found the base's daily sudoku page and began to work through the puzzle, only half paying attention to Eagle Flight's patrol.
The door swished open. Victoria dashed inside and skidded to a stop. "Finally. I was wondering where everyone went. It's like everyone's avoiding me."
Dominique saved her puzzle and set down her pad. "Not everyone is avoiding you."
"Renée is." Victoria plunked herself on Darcy's bunk. "What are you doing here?"
"Sudoku." Dominique pointed at her datatab.
"Then you've eaten?"
"Not yet. I had a workout. I do that sort of thing."
Victoria sighed. "Does that mean you're hungry?"
Dominique gave the shorter woman a patient smile. "Are you asking me to join you for dinner?"
Victoria put her fists on her hips. "Would you like to have dinner with me, Dom? I would be oh so happy to have you as company."
"Sure." Dominique held out a hand. "Help me up?"
Victoria pulled as the taller woman got her feet under her. "And thanks. It's nice having a friendly face around."
"I thought you didn't find Renée."
"Don't start with me."
Dominique ruffled Victoria's brown tresses. "So why didn't you eat already?"
"I was visiting Peri again. She can yak off your ear if you're not careful. She's also getting antsy, so I played a few card games with her before the rest of her flight came in." Victoria rubbed her forehead. "Do not play poker with that girl. She has the 'innocent' look down pat."
"I'll remember that." Dominique steered her squad mate out of their quarters and towards the mess hall. "Not that I gamble much."
"Really?" Victoria's eyes widened in surprise. "Well, I could teach you."
"No thanks. Besides, what do we have to gamble with up here? We don't use cash and we've all pitched in on chores in our room."
Victoria leered. "Perchance you have heard of strip poker?"
Dominique raised an eyebrow. "We've seen each other naked. Remember the showers back in training? And, well, I have a good idea of what a woman's body looks like, owning one and all."
"Fine. Salt packets, then. Something."
"You are bored, aren't you?"
"How could you tell?"
Dominique laughed. "My little sister was like that, too, always running around and poking at things. Poking at me, too, until I held her upside down over the toilet and threatened to flush her." The blonded sized up Victoria. "You know, I think I could lift you."
"Don't you dare."
"Let's see." Dominique reached out to grab Victoria.
The smaller woman darted just out of reach. "Don't. Dom, no, really. I'll get sick!"
"No you won't. I saw how you flew today." Dominique made a grab for Victoria's arm, her fingers sliding along the fabric of the tinier girl's uniform.
Victoria shriek and ran down the corridor. "Dom, wait, I can make an offer."
Dominique gave chase, following the giggle Victoria to the mess hall. Both came up short as Darcy came out the entrance. "Sorry," Dominique said.
Darcy blinked. "Oh, don't worry about it. Though, Tori, after you've eaten, meet me in the gym."
"Okay, Darcy." Victoria cocked her head in confusion. "Is there a reason?"
"Yes." Darcy slipped past her teammates.
Dominique watched the Lieutenant leave. "That was weird."
"I know. What was that about?"
"You'll find out after dinner, I guess." Dominique snaked her arms around Victoria's waist. "Gotcha!" She picked up the shrieking brunette without effort. "Too easy."
"Dom, put me down." Victoria kicked her legs. "Dom, please, you're making a scene here."
"You're the one yelling and screaming."
"Dom!" Victoria went limp. "You win! You win!"
Dominique set her friend down. "I knew I could pick you up."
"Yeah, yeah, now let's go get something to eat before I starve. Maybe I can gain enough weight to make it harder for you to grab me."
Renée returned to her quarters. As she entered, she heard shrieks coming from down the corridor, then Victoria shouting some protests. The Quebecoise shrugged and continued into her room. The holo-display had been left on, letting radio squawks from whoever was on patrol to come over the speakers. Renée shut off the display unit, letting silence fill the room. Figures Tori would forget to turn things off. She snorted at the blanket sprawled out on the floor.
Renée gathered her bed clothes and stepped into the shared bathroom. She set aside her uniform, draping it on a towel rack, then got into the shower. Despite the rhythmic pulsing easing her muscles and shaking away the day's grime, the redhead desperately wanted a proper shower. Renée closed her eyes, imagining steamy hot water cascading down her, soaking her. She shook away the reverie; day dreaming just made things worse, letting her desire overwhelm her.
Shutting off the sonic shower, Renée toweled off and put on her pyjamas. She returned to the bunks, hanging her uniform in her section of the closet. After a moment's thought, she grabbed one of her clean socks, taking it to the door. Time to see how much privacy I can get. Renée hung the sock off the door handle, then closed the door.
The redhead retreated to her bunk, climbing up and settling in. She retrieved her datatab from the small nook at the foot of her upper berth. She flipped over on to her stomach. Dear Mom and Dad, she typed. I know, I know, it's been too long since I emailed you. The past few weeks were hectic. The new job . . . Renée paused, biting her lip. The new job is nothing like I expected. Too good to be true, and I should've remembered the saying. "If it's too good to be true, it isn't true." Too late now. But, I am going to have an incredible story to tell you if . . . Renée backspaced. But, I am going to have an incredible story to tell you when I get home. I miss all of you a lot and keep thinking of you. Keep in touch. Love you, your petite Renée. A tear slowly fell down Renée's cheek. She dabbed at it with the back of her hand, then buried her head in her pillow.
Victoria poked her head into the gym and scanned around for Darcy. Sure, the Lieutenant could be distracted at times, but to not recognize or even notice either herself or Dominique in her way was just freaky. Darcy wasn't on the floor with any of the others performing yoga. Victoria walked all the way into the gym, curiosity winning her over.
"Geek, up here." Darcy waved from the upper row of the stands.
Victoria crossed over the floor and climbed up to meet her commander. "Hi. You invited me to watch yoga? Because, really? I'm sure I could find something else to do. Anything else to do."
"Exactly what I wanted to hear."
"Darcy, you're not making any sense."
"Good." Darcy pressed a nano-SD chip into Victoria's hand, then closed the stunned woman's fingers over the storage device. "I need you to do something for me that neither of can talk about at all in public or with the rest of the Beavers."
Victoria let her fist fall, still clutching the nano-SD chip. "I'll be disavowed if anyone finds out?"
Darcy nodded. "If you're lucky."
"Okay, so, I'm doing something I have no idea about but you do but you can't tell me?"
"And I expect a full report when you're done, too."
"Hello, Darcy? I'm not a real officer. I don't speak Army."
Darcy smiled. "Technically, you don't speak Air Force."
"The point is, are you speaking English or have you gone insane already? I mean, if I was to bet on anyone going around the bend this soon, Renée would've had my money, not you."
"I've given you everything you need." Darcy patted Victoria's shoulder, then stood up. "You're a bright woman. You'll figure it out." She glanced at Victoria's fist before picking her way down from the stands.
Victoria watched her lieutenant leave. "Yeah, thanks." Once Darcy had exited the gym, Victoria made her way down. Once on ground level, she thrust both her hands into her pockets and hoped she looked nonchalant as she left. The nano-SD chip felt like it was burning a hole through her hand. She loosened her grip on the storage device, letting it tumble into her pocket.
Victoria's first thought was to return to her quarters. The sight of a sock hanging off the door handled killed the idea. Her next idea was to find an empty briefing room. Victoria checked the base's time; at 2300, Eagle Flight would still be on patrol for at least forty-five minutes. The hangar briefing room should be vacant.
When Victoria arrived, she was delighted to see that the room was, indeed, empty. She entered the room, closing the door behind her. Curious about the cloak and dagger routine Darcy was going through, Victoria pulled her mini-tablet from her breast pocket and placed the nano-SD chip inside it. She pulled up the file list for the storage device; only two files, one a lengthy video, the other a quick note marked "Read Me First". With no other instructions, Victoria opened the "Read Me" file.
Tori,At least the chip won't self destruct. Victoria rolled her eyes. She remembered the clips from training, the aliens attacking the rescue party then taking away all the bodies. Why would Darcy want to review that now? Victoria's curiosity mulled over the question. Why would Darcy want to review that now? Was she suggesting something else was happening? Victoria cursed her curiosity, then started up the video.
I have a hunch. Watch the video and tell me how many people died. Then ask yourself how Yulya survived.
Dominique slowed her pace as she approached her shared quarters. She spied the sock on the door, but, before she could think of where else she could go, Renée came out to retrieve the footwear. The red haired woman looked up. "Oh, hi, Dom."
"Did I disturb your quiet time?" Dominique asked as she walked to the entryway. As she got closer, she noticed Renée's red-rimmed eyes. "Is there something wrong?"
Renée gave a slight shake to her head. "Nothing."
Dominique brought her teammate back into the room, letting the door close behind her. "You've been crying." She pulled the smaller woman into a hug.
"I'm fine, Dom. Really."
"No, you're not. Really."
"I'm just homesick, okay?"
Dominique rubbed Renée's back. "Want to talk about it?" She led the redhead to her bunk and helped her sit down.
Renée took a deep breath. "I spent a bit of time with Hue – Koala from the Kangaroos. She told me all about her family and how long she's been here and, well, she reminded me of my family." She shrugged. "This isn't the longest I've been away from them, but . . ." Her voice trailed off.
"This is the farthest you've been and you just can't pick up a phone to give them a call." Dominique sat down beside her teammate. "I know how you feel. I'm here for you, though. I've got shoulders that you can cry on."
"I feel like some junior camper, bawling because she misses her mommy."
"Junior campers go to the lake for a month at most, not into space for who knows how long." Dominique wrapped an arm around Renée's shoulder. "And junior campers can make s'mores before bed. We get square ice cream." The tall blonde reached into her breast pocket and brought out a silvered package. "Here. I grabbed extra tonight."
Renée looked at the offered package. "That's the ice cream?"
"Try it." Dominque unwrapped the package, revealing a brown wafer. "It's better than it looks."
Renée broke off a corner and popped it into her mouth. "Chocolate?"
"The Major's trying to get other flavours up, but chocolate and vanilla are the most popular so far. More?"
"Thanks." Renée broke off another chunk. "Hooray for science."
Dominique handed the package to the smaller woman. "Take it. I've got more."
"Thanks. You know what really is getting me? I don't fit here. I'm a linguist. I study languages." Renée shrugged. "What do they need me for?"
"First contact? Interpreting alien languages?"
"I can do that on Earth. It's not like I can translate a new language on the fly while piloting through space and dodging laser beams. And we don't have anything to look at anyway. All they do is shoot."
"I know, I know. But if we capture one, you can take a look at their writing then."
"No, I can take a look at their programming language then, and it's probably machine code." Renée sighed.
Dominique rubbed the redhead's shoulders. "Stop beating yourself up like that. For all we know, we're not listening on the right channels. We're dealing with something completely new here. Breakthroughs will be happening all over. And, even if nothing comes of this, think of the stories you can tell your children. How many mothers get to say they've been on the moon? Even if it is frightening."
Renée gave a faint smile. "If I can handle being up here, I can handle anything, right?"
"Right. Anything other than Tori. That girl's a force of nature."
Victoria rubbed her eyes. She rewound the video clip back again to the point the aliens start their attack. After half a dozen viewings, she couldn't see what Darcy thought there was. The aliens break through a bulkhead, start firing an energy ray around. Marines who are hit keel over right away. Other Marines shoot back, some hitting, some missing. An alien suit is punctured and air is sucked out; the alien falls. Emelin takes careful aim, the barrel of her rifle crossing the camera's view, targeting cross appearing on the lens. The Russian woman shoots another alien in the head. For all her trouble, though, another of the invaders shoots her. The camera tilts, pans down to show the white boots of Emelin's space suit, tilts left, then crashes to the ground. The remainder of the scene is sideways and only shows the white booted feet of the rescue party and the legs of crimson armour the invaders wear. After a few minutes, bodies, both alien and human, are dragged away. The camera remains recording from its angle for ten minutes, thirty-nine seconds, when Emelin sits up again. Victoria sighed. She couldn't figure out what Darcy found odd. Emelin was the only survivor, even after being shot.
Victoria slammed the table in frustration. Emelin was shot, and now she served on Darkside One as a pilot. She couldn't have been hurt that badly if she's still in service, the physicist reasoned. It was a lucky graze. Victoria held on to the thought – lucky graze. She rewound the video back to when the Russian was shot. Emelin takes careful aim, the barrel of her rifle crossing the camera's view, targeting cross appearing on the lens. The Russian woman shoots another alien in the head. For all her trouble, though, another of the invaders shoots her.
Well, hell. Victoria rewound the footage again. For all her trouble, though, another of the invaders shoots her. They bloody well nailed her! Victoria checked the life signs data embedded with the footgage. The suit registered no breach, no change of pressure. Nothing punctured. No change in body or suit temperature. Damn, I wish there was a neutrino scan with this.
The door to the briefing room opened. Yulya herself led Bear Flight into the room, coming up short on seeing the blonde Canadian occupying the room. "I'm sorry, but we have this room now," Yulya said, her accent strong.
Victoria smiled. "Oh? What time is it?"
"Already?" Victoria shoved her mini-tablet into her pocket. "Sorry about that. I got caught up in something longer than I expected. I'll just get out of your hair."
"Not a problem." Yulya moved out of the way. "What were you watching?"
Victoria put on a smile. "Oh, just some old lectures on quantum physics. Really intense. I had to go back over them a few times to make sure I understood it."
"Good luck on your patrol!" Victoria made her way out of the room and walked away at a casual pace. Too close. I've got to tell Darcy what I found. Once she turned the corner out of sight of the briefing room, Victoria broke into a run, heading straight to her quarters.
Few people were in the hallways this close to local midnight. Eagle Flight was still on patrol, and Kangaroo and Tiger Flights were probably in bed by now by Victoria's reasoning. Only maintenance personnel and insomniacs were out and about. Victoria passed them, giving each of them a polite, "Hi," before tearing by. She reached her shared dorm room and burst through the door. Inside, Darcy, Renée, and Dominique looked up. Renée huffed and returned to her reading. Darcy set down her datatab. "I was starting to wonder about you."
"Only starting?" Renée sniped.
"Renée." Darcy's tone had an undercurrent of warning to it.
"Darcy, I figured out what you were talking about," Victoria said.
"You figured out how to speak Air Force?"
Victoria glared at the Lieutenant. "I found out what happened."
"Really? Then sleep on it and I'll talk to you in the morning."
"Good night, Tori," Darci said. "Better get changed before the lights go off."
Victoria sighed. "Fine, fine." She grabbed her night clothes and disappeared into the bathroom. After a quick sonic shower, she returned to the main room and clambered up to her bunk. A folded note waited for her on her pillow. She opened the paper up to find a message scrawled on it. Tori, secret means secret, even from R & D. At least for now. Shush. DK Victoria crumpled the page into a ball and shoved it under her pillow. She stared down at her mattress, trying to figure out what Darcy was up to. Fine, secret is secret. Victoria arranged herself on the bed, laying on her back as she fell asleep.
"Everyone up! Busy day today!"
"Because, I, for one, am fully against being anally probed without being taken out for dinner and a movie first."
"What if the aliens don't have boyfriends? Okay, that just sounded ridiculous to me."
"It's like a horror movie without a soundtrack and with people talking all the way through it. Except, you want to hear the talking."