"The invaders, they don't press their advantage."
"If you look in that direction, you'll get a wonderful view of home."
"The outcry from the deception would be loud.
"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."
Chapter 7 - Farther and Further
May 20, 2128
Darcy woke up with the first sounding of the alarm. She heard the other women groaning as they stirred. Above her, Darcy heard Victoria mumble something along the lines of, "Fi' more mi'utes." She gave the brunette geek a poke from below and got a more coherent, "Hey!"
Swinging her legs out from under her covers, Darcy called out, "Everyone up! Busy day today!"
"Hosti!" Renée climbed down from her upper bunk. "What time is it?"
"Time to get up, Renée." Darcy clapped her hands. "Let's go. The bathroom's free, breakfast is in the mess hall. We'll eat together for a change." The Lieutenant climbed up on the ladder on her bunk to check on Victoria. The brunette was on her stomach, her face buried in her pillow. Darcy shook Victoria's shoulder. "Let's go, Tori! You don't want to be late. Trust me, there."
"I'm up, I'm up!" Victoria pushed herself up, getting her arms underneath her.
"Good. Stay awake, too." Darcy stepped off the ladder.
Dominique rolled out of her bed. "I'm grabbing the bathroom." She picked out her uniform and disappeared for her toiletries.
Renée grabbed her clothes and stared at the bathroom door. "Hmph. Darcy, what are we doing today?"
"It's a surprise." Darcy grinned. "Tori, get your ass out of bed now!"
"God, I'm coming."
"Har, har." Victoria slid down her ladder, fully dressed. "I'm awake, see?"
"You didn't wear your uniform to bed, did you?"
"No, but I kept it up there so I could get dressed without waiting or whining from others."
Darcy inspected the brunette's uniform. "It'll do. Go start breakfast and get us a table. Don't forget your boots."
Victoria grabbed her tablets – datapad and minitab – before putting her boots on and leaving.
Renée started pacing in front of the bathroom door. "Dom, I need to go!"
"Hold on!" Dominique called from the other side. "I'm almost – argh – done!" The door opened a moment later. "There." Renée pushed past the taller woman, sliding the door shut behind her. Dominique shrugged. "Sorry about that, Darcy."
"I bumped my head." Dominique rubbed the back of her skull. "I took too big a step backwards putting my boots on."
"Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah. Not the first time."
Darcy patted Dominique's arm. "Go get breakfast. Tori's already on her way. I'll be along soon, once Renée's done. And try to keep those two separated. Last thing we want is a food fight to break out."
Dominique laughed. "I'll try." She left.
Darcy sighed once the door closed. She made her bed before she changed into her uniform. The familiar Air Force blue reassured her, kept her from losing her centre. There was little done to modify her uniform for the mission, just the addition of a breather mask in case of depressurization. It wouldn't help long, but hopefully long enough to get to an airlock or a proper space suit. Darcy adjusted the folds and checked herself in the mirror, making sure the uniform sat properly on her.
Renée came out from the bathroom. She yawned as she tossed her pyjamas on to her bed. "Good morning, Darcy."
"Good morning. You look like you need caffeine."
"I need more sleep."
"We could get to bed earlier tonight if that will help."
Renée scowled. "I'll be fine."
Darcy wrapped her arm around Renée's shoulder. "I can hear breakfast calling us. Shall we?" She directed the Quebecoise out the door.
At the mess hall, Victoria and Dominique were already halfway through their meals when Renée and Darcy arrived. The hall itself was bustling as the staff of Darkside One grabbed a bite to eat to start their day. Renée picked out a number of accents, from the American Mid-West to Hindi-accented to an Aussie brogue, interspersed with Russian and a quiet conversation in Japanese in a corner. All this helped Renée tune out Victoria's droning even before sitting down.
Dominique looked over at Renée's lack of tray. "Just tea?"
"Coffee." Renée sat down. "Breakfast of champions and Montréalers since the dawn of time." She looked over at Dominique's plate of bright yellow eggs drowned in ketchup. "How can you eat that?"
"High metabolism. I'm also planning on working out later."
Victoria piled some of her eggs on to a slice of toast. "You really should eat something, Renée."
"I'm not hungry."
"Leave her alone, guys," Darcy said as she started digging into her printed sausage. "I've had the talk with her already in the line up."
Victoria shrugged, then shoved her toast and eggs into her mouth. Once she swallowed, she said, "So, what are we doing today?"
"Directed study," Darcy said. "I want to check out the footage from earlier attacks on Darkside One and see if there's either a pattern or a weakness. Dom, I want you to go over the reports as well, see if you can find weak points in the aliens' suits. Renée, talk to other pilots and see what went through their heads when they defended themselves. And, Tori, work with Dom. I know, engineering isn't quite your field, but you at least understand the math." Darcy took a sip of her tea. "We'll be joining Kangaroo Flight again today on patrol. Same partners as yesterday. Questions?"
Dominique held up her hand. "Yeah, Darcy. How good are the recordings? If I can't get a good close up, then how am I supposed to tell if a hit was effective?"
"Telltales, like air or water escaping," Victoria said.
"Which is well and good if the suits involved were beside each other." Dominique set the salt and pepper shakers close together. "It's easy when they're this close." She moved the shakers across the table from each other. "Now look for holes."
Victoria bent her head down to the table to get a better angle. "Cameras do have zoom functions."
"Ladies, that's up to you to figure out," Darcy said. "I know it sounds like I want you to start from scratch, but a new perspective might help everyone here, not just us. And, it'll keep you busy, at least for the morning."
"Okay, Darcy," Dominique said. "We'll see what we can do."
"Good, good." Darcy took a bite of her breakfast. "Oh, and Tori? I need to clear up some paperwork with you."
"Paperwork?" Victoria sat back up. "What paperwork? I thought all that was dealt with back on Earth."
Darcy fixed the brunette with a steady stare. "What about the report about your laser communications not tracking yesterday?"
"Oh, for crying out loud, Darcy. What did I do, not dot an 'i' in the proper regulation manner."
"Nothing you do is 'proper regulation', Tori," Renée said. "I'm surprised you could even march with us without getting out of step."
"I was in step when we arrived," Victoria said.
Darcy held up her hands to forestall the inevitable. "Hey, no fighting while eating."
Renée downed the dregs of her coffee. She grimaced. "I'll get started on the work, Darcy. Let me go make my bed first."
Dominique finished her breakfast. "I'll go with you, Renée. Darcy, if I go work out, will that give you and Tori time to get the report fixed?"
Darcy glanced over at Victoria. "It should."
"Good." Dominique stood up. She gathered the used plates and mugs, including Renée's, and took them over to the return station. The tall pilot then left with her teammate, leaving Victoria and Darcy behind.
Victoria watched the two women leave before turning back to Darcy. "You're starting to weird me out," she said. "What's going on?"
Darcy smiled. "Just making sure everyone is busy. You know, idle hands and all."
"No, I don't know, Darcy."
"Then hold that thought until I see you in our quarters. You do have a bed to make."
Victoria shook her head, trying to figure out what the Lieutenant was up to. Unsuccessful, she finished her breakfast in peace before leaving.
After breakfast, Darcy walked at a leisurely pace back to her quarters. Arriving, she saw Victoria there, pacing. "You're going to wear a rut in the floor," the Lieutenant said.
"What is with you?" Victoria exploded.
Darcy slid the door shut. "Have a seat."
"Not until you tell me what's going on."
"Sit down, Lieutenant." Darcy's tone brooked no argument.
Victoria bristled at the use of the rank, but sat down on Darcy's bunk. "There. What is going on?"
"I don't know." Darcy took a seat on Dominique's bed across from Victoria. "That's why I've got all of you looking into things. Something seems odd."
"No kidding, Darcy. I watched that video like you wanted. I don't think any of those marines died."
Darcy closed her eyes and sighed. "I was afraid of that."
"Of what? That the aliens need our bodies for weird experiments that involve anal probing? Because, I, for one, am fully against being anally probed without being taken out for dinner and a movie first."
Darcy laughed. "Nothing like that. Did anyone tell you that you have quite an imagination?"
"Okay, then why did you have me watch?"
"Remember that Lieutenant Emelin was the only survivor?"
Victoria nodded. "And that's why it's an estrogen festival up here. Because the men are, of . . ., for . . ., Darcy, you've got to be joking."
"They took the men alive! Just the men!" Victoria smacked her forehead. "It's so bleeding obvious. We'd have figured it out sooner if only women disappeared. They need men to breed!"
Darcy nodded. "But that sounds insane."
"Tell me about it. But, unless the aliens enjoy using external genitalia as a delicacy and found a world just teaming with just that, what else could it be?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out, Tori. Why here, why just men, why alive?" Darcy shrugged. "And, if they were shooting to knock out instead of to kill, then what happened when we shot back with lethal force?"
"We escalate, they escalate. They use a taser, we use a knife. They use a knife, we use a gun. They put one of ours in the hospital, we put one of theirs in the morgue." Victoria shook her head. "We're not nice people, really."
"Like the aliens are any better. They started by kidnapping. We're defending ourselves. They could've asked use to help them."
"Really? Help them do what? What if they're rendering down our men to turn them into alien pig chow?"
Darcy blinked. "Tori, did you get enough to eat at breakfast?"
"Yes. Why?" Victoria looked confused.
"Never mind. Tori, what would you do with men you kidnapped?"
Victoria shrugged. "Hold them for ransom, I suppose."
Darcy smacked her forehead. "That many fit men, at once, without knowing who to ask for the ransom?"
"I've seen the James Bond movies, Darcy. You keep them for later brainwashing to work in your secret base while you take over the world."
"And you don't even think about using them for sex?"
"I've got a boyfriend back home, Darcy. I don't need to kidnap anyone."
Darcy sighed. "What if the aliens don't have boyfriends? Okay, that just sounded ridiculous to me."
Victoria nodded in agreement. "It really was. Besides, how do we know that their slot Bs will fit a human tab A? It's just in bad science fiction that we see aliens and humans having and using proper interlocking naughty bits."
"Okay, what's your explanation for the kidnappings and why only men?"
Victoria shrugged her shoulders. "They don't like fatty breast meat?"
"Except, there's a whole lot more men on Earth than up here." Darcy shook her head. "Okay, you know what? Never mind. I'm speculating without information. Work with Dom on the weak points of their suits, okay?"
"Okay. Want me to see who shoots first?"
"Not a bad idea, especially for the first few attacks on the base. Don't tell Dom just yet. I think I want to see what she and Renée come up with on their own."
Renée entered the base's lounge and found it quiet. Two women in coveralls, one American, the other Australian, sat at a chess board, staring at the pieces in rapt concentration. Another woman, dressed in grey shorts and a tie-dyed long-sleeved t-shirt, curled up on a chair with her datatab. Renée sighed as she parked herself on the couch. She didn't recognize any of the women, though she thought the women playing chess were from the medical section. The red haired Quebecoise took out her own datatab and started flipping through the various files.
Hearing the door to the lounge slide open, Renée looked up. Hue from Kangaroo Flight walked in and, seeing Renée, waved. Renée got up and walked over to greet the tiny Australian. "How was breakfast?"
"I really miss proper sausages and eggs. And toast, though the bread here is real." Hue hugged the Canadian. "What about you?"
"The coffee was awful, but strong." Renée walked back to the couch, Hue trailing her. "So, the ideal breakfast for me."
"You don't eat breakfast?"
"It's a Montréal tradition, like cheering for les Habs, smoking, and mocking Toronto." Renée smiled. "So, something of home is still here."
Hue laughed. "That's the spirit!"
"Just because I live in fear that I'll wake up breathing vacuum doesn't mean I can't find ways to remind me of home." Renée sat down. "I should at least find a way to get a Canadiens banner up here. Support the team despite not being able to follow them in the playoffs at the Forum."
"Get your Lieutenant to ask for the playoffs to be sent up," Hue suggested as she joined Renée on the couch. "I'm sure that the rest of us wouldn't mind seeing something different for a change."
"I'll mention it to her. Beats reading about it in the news." Renée took a breath. "Hue, do you mind if I asked you a few questions. My lieutenant wants me to talk to some of the pilots about the attacks. She's trying to find a common element."
"I don't see why not, but she's going over ground the brass has already examined."
"I know, but she's working on something of her own." Renée shrugged. "My lieutenant also prefers getting information from the source instead of having it filtered through other people's biases."
Hue narrowed her eyes. "But, if you ask me questions, won't they be biased?"
"I'm not really sure what she's up to, really. She asked me to find out what you were thinking during the attacks. She has Dom and Tori – Dominatrix and Geek – looking over the recordings. So, still interested?"
Renée glanced over at the chess game. "We should go somewhere else so we don't disturb anyone else."
"I know a place." Hue winked.
"I was hoping you'd say that. I could use a proper breakfast."
Dominique returned to her shared quarters to find Victoria already at work reviewing flight recordings on the room's main holodisplay. The lanky blonde set her gym bag down on her bunk before walking around the video replay. "Find anything yet?" she asked.
"Hi Dom. No, nothing, but I was just seeing if I could mesh up multiple playbacks at once." Victoria fiddled with her datatab. "I don't want to use multiple devices. The scaling gets wonky."
"Let me look." Dominique dropped to her knees beside the holodisplay and checked the manual controls. "Okay, multiple inputs, that's good. Can you pause your video a moment? I need to get to the menu."
"Sure." Above the holodisplay, the image of the power suits froze mid-scene, hanging in the air.
Dominique accessed the display's menu. "Found it! Let me patch something in on top of your video." She reached for her datatab and connected it physically to the holodisplay. Dominique called up a webcast clip and played it. On the display, animated unicorns ran past the frozen power suits. "How's that?"
Victoria watched the playback on the display. "Unicorns? Really?"
Dominique's cheeks flushed red. "What? I like the show."
"I just never would've taken you for a unicorn person."
"When I was seven, I dressed up as a princess for Hallowe'en. My sister went as Dracula's daughter. She was scary. She is scary. She still dresses up like that."
"And do you still dress up like a princess?"
"Only on Hallowe'en."
Dominique scrambled up on her bunk. "Can we just get to work on the flight recordings?"
"Anything you wish, Your Highness."
Dominique threw her pillow at Victoria, hitting the smaller woman's shoulder. "Shush, you!"
Victoria pushed the pillow away, then restarted her playback. "Okay, this is the first attack after Darkside One was established. At the time, only Eagle and Bear Flights were up here. Eagle was on patrol when the attack came. This recording came from their flight leader's suit." One by one, Victoria added the video from the remainder of Eagle Flight's power suits. "So, hopefully, I've got the scale correct here."
"Can you lock the centre of the display on their leader? Might make things easier for us to see."
Victoria tapped at her datapad. "I think I got it." She returned her attention to the playback. "I got it. Okay, so this is about three minutes before contact. You can see Darkside One, barely, and only because they didn't close the hangar doors."
"Wait, when was this?"
"September last year. Darkside One is just going through 'sunset'."
Dominique nodded. "That explains the shadows."
On the display, the four red, white, and blue power suits coasted through space, occasionally firing their thrusters to make minor course corrections. Eagle Flight's leader would, time to time, execute a slow, full spin, checking directions that the rest of her team wasn't looking in. After three minutes, the display collapsed to a smaller scale to show a red blip at the edge of the hologram. Dominique stood up to take a look at the blip from different angles. "Tori, can you back up a bit and leave the scale like this? No, wait, decrease the scale a little more. Eagle Flight must have seen this coming."
"Hang on." Victoria made the adjustments on her datapad. "I'll rewind to twenty seconds before the appearance." The display blinked out briefly, then reappeared, the power suits rearranged subtly. "Starting playback."
Dominique kept an eye on the edge of the display. After twenty seconds, the blip appeared. "Odd. Tori, what's the distance between the blip and Eagle Flight? Was it out of their scanning range and then appeared?"
"That's well within our scanning range, Dom. I don't know how Eagle could've missed it. Keep watching, though. It gets weirder." Victoria let the video continue. As the American flight fired their thrusters to close in on the intruder, a second red blip appeared beside the first, followed by a third."
"What the hell?"
Victoria nodded. "That was my thought, too. Where are these guys appearing from? They didn't fly in."
"And forget faster-than-light. We'd be seeing a red shift on the recordings. A cloak, maybe, keeping them invisible?"
"Why decloak? Why not stay invisible and slip past to the base and do whatever it is they do there?"
Dominique shrugged. "They just can't have popped into existence. Physics doesn't work that way."
"It does at the quantum level."
"I didn't think quantum physics allowed for the spontaneous creation of alien invaders in power suits. Unless..."
"Unless?" Victoria prompted. She paused the playback. "Are you suggesting that the aliens have figured out a way to use quantum level physics to pop all over the universe?"
"Is it possible? Not by our technology, but in theory, could someone harness the ability for a particle to appear from nothing?"
"It'd be one hell of an energy hog. We only get sub-atomic particles because they're tiny. Something the size of a power suit? The Laws of Thermodynamics comes into play at some point. You can't just send someone a galaxy away without adding energy to the system."
Dominique nodded. "I know, I know. But if energy is another form of matter, like in the Hawking-Cooper revised theory of relativity, then can't you, well, beam, for a lack of a better word, someone even a short distance?"
"First, define short. Are we looking at getting someone past a door without opening it or sending someone from here to Mars? Just getting past a door requires the energy output of a nuclear power plant. Interplanetary is out of the question. Second, beam is a perfectly cromulent word to use here."
Dominique sat down. "So, explain how the aliens just suddenly appeared."
"I can't. Not yet." Victoria jotted a not on her minitab. "But I think I know what I want for my birthday."
"Let's keep playing the video."
Victoria unpaused the playback. On the display, Eagle Flight continued its trajectory towards the three alien blips. One of the Eagles raised its gauss cannon and fired a quick burst. The aliens swerved, breaking formation. The other Eagles swooped in towards the lead alien suit, trying to bracket it in a crossfire. The alien, though, reacted faster than expected, juking away and out of the line of fire. As the two sides got closer, Victoria increased the scaling to give her and Dominque a closer view. The red blips gained detail as the video progressed, allowing the women to note details. The alien suits were indistinguishable from each other; all three were a soft light grey, a humanoid shape, and slightly smaller than the smallest of Eagle Flight. The aliens spent most of the time dodging the American attack, avoiding being hit for the most part. One of the Americans, Eagle Three, managed to hit the alien leader's power suit in the right leg. The alien leader turned to face Eagle Three and raised its arm, tracking the American's path. Victoria paused the video.
Dominique looked over to her teammate. "Did you see something?"
Victoria got up and walked over to the holodisplay. She toured around the edge of the display, examining the position of each participant of the fight. When she reached the alien leader's suit, she climbed on top of the display unit. "Weird."
Dominique got up and approached the display. "What is?"
"The alien had her." Victoria pulled out her minitab and turned on its laser pointer. "Take a look here." She shone the laser so that it came out of the alien leader's arm. The laser passed through the chest of Eagle Three. "See? It had her, dead to rights. It could have shot, would have hit. For all we know, it did shoot. The recordings are just visible light with graphics superimposed."
"Let me zoom in a bit." Dominique adjusted the display, bringing the point of focus in closer on the alien leader's suit. "Damn. Pixelization."
"I was afraid of that. We need some extra levels of recording on our suits."
"Extra?" Dominique raised an eyebrow. "Such as?"
"I need to check for neutrino emissions, tachyons, things like that. Which will be difficult. Sub-atomic sensors are expensive and large." Victoria paused as she thought through her idea. "Or maybe not. I don't need to know the type, not yet. Just whether there are any. Which is difficult when we're in the sun." Victoria opened her email on her minitab and sent a quick request to Darcy.
"We could MacGuyver something in the meantime."
Victoria stared at Dominique. "MacGuyver something? With what?"
"Traditionally, a Swiss army knife, two rubber bands, and an apple. Here, I don't know. You tell me what you need and I can try coming up with a substitute. I'm sure we can find most of what you want somewhere."
"Just think about it." Dominique returned to her bunk. "Let's keep going. We're not even through this one yet."
In the mess hall, Darcy set her datatab down and rubbed her eyes. The After Action Reports she read were written to avoid details and the active voice. The Russian reports she'd have to leave for Renée to translate before she could even read them. The American reports focused more on the materiel used instead of what happened. The Australian report, Darcy just wanted to crumple and toss if she hadn't been using a tablet. Still, she started to get an idea of what the typical response was by the multinational force at Darkside One – full thrust to meet the enemy, and shoot. No finesse at all. The tactic made some sense to Darcy; when only one in a four-man squad was even trained in tactical thinking, it was probably a good idea to keep things simple.
What got Darcy was the alien response. The aliens dispersed each time. They let the flights get within firing range before doing anything. Not that firing range meant anything in space. Even the moon's gravitational pull could be adjusted for to hit targets at record distances. But, the aliens closed in on the defenders before bringing up their weapons, some sort of laser or energy beam. Darcy made a note to ask Victoria and Dominique about attenuation in a vacuum, but she felt that a beam weapon should be the easiest to adjust to hit a target.
Darcy closed the reports. Her minitab buzzed, letting her know of a new email arriving. She fished the device out of her pocket. A new email from Victoria waited in the inbox. Darcy skimmed through the message. Neutrino sensor? Is she insane? Darcy flagged the message for a later follow up.
Across the table, Major di Carlo sat down with a cup of tea. "Mind if I join you?"
"Please." Darcy pushed her datatab to the corner. "Just doing some research."
"On the aliens, how they attacked, what they tended to do to counter us." Darcy shrugged. "It gave me something to do before this afternoon's patrol."
Di Carlo sipped her tea. "Discovered anything yet?"
"Not sure. Our tactics so far are a little above point and shoot, and I can see why. Three-quarters of the pilots here aren't career military. But, the aliens don't seem to be doing much, either."
"We have top strategists working on this, here and at the Pentagon. They haven't made a breakthrough there, either. At least, nothing they're telling us."
"They don't seem to have a short-term goal. They arrive, engage us, then leave before anyone gets too shot up, us or them."
"Limited fuel, probably. We have a maximum range for you, too."
"But, if you're invading, why stop so soon? Why not find a way to deal with fuel reserves before launching?"
"Testing our defences?"
"Maybe, but they never get close to Darkside One. I wish it was because the pilots here are all aces, but the reports don't show it."
Di Carlo smiled. "The base is still relatively new. Even the flights that have been here from the beginning haven't been here a full year. The Australians have been around only five months. In all that time, everyone, pilots, command staff, and support staff, have had to adjust to the new environment. I'm just thankful that the aliens aren't attacking more frequently. We'll figure out what they're looking for, though."
Darcy gathered her electronic devices. "I suppose. I should get going. My team will be getting ready for patrol soon." She stood up.
"Good luck and good hunting out there."
Renée and Hue lounged in the tiny Australian's secret storeroom, sipping on steaming coffee. Hue stretched out on the couch. "Enjoying the magazine?"
"I haven't had a chance to look through it," Renée said. "My lieutenant wants us to stay busy for a bit."
"Good idea on her part. It gets dull, even with added chores. Routine can be boring, and that, at least according to my boss, can get us complacent. Might have been why Peri got hit. Never happened to her before." Hue shrugged. "It's not like the aliens come with any regularity. It took them a month between the third and fourth attack after Kangaroo got here. That was annoying."
Renée smiled. "I can imagine."
"Oh, it was worse." Hue sipped her coffee. "The first week, we, well, Kangaroo Flight's civvies, at least, we were all, 'Oh, no, don't let another strike happen.' The next week, we were more, 'Okay, we're ready; bring it on!' The third week, 'Where the bloody hell are they? We're right here!' By the time the aliens returned, we were sniping at each other, on each others' nerves, and just one beer away from a drunken brawl." Hue shook her heard. "I don't want to go through that again. The waiting was brutal."
"I see." Renée sat down on the room's chair and crossed her legs. "What's it like fighting the aliens?"
"It's hard to describe. I mean, you've got the sheer terror when you see their damned power suits appear on your sensors, and then the thrill from accelerating and shooting at them, then more terror when they shoot back. 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. It means the rest of your team is still alive."
"I see." Renée grimaced. "Did I tell you that I hate horror movies?"
"What about roller coasters? Because after the first time, that's what it felt like. A roller coaster under your control, sort of. Except for the dodging part, which you have to do."
"I figured, on account of all the shooting."
Hue nodded. "And the near misses. I don't get it. The aliens don't seem to shoot at us until we're really close. Even then, they try to ram us or something more often."
"They don't see to care if we bounce off them."
Renée sipped her coffee, enjoying the rich taste of the brew. "Weird. Has it worked?"
"Define 'worked'. I mean, they hit us, but they didn't do much damage. This is about as close to getting the classic frictionless momentum problems in physics."
"I dropped that as soon as I could. Those are the billiard ball problems, one ball hits two more at an angle, how fast are they going afterwards?"
Hue smiled. "Those are the ones. It's annoying for us, getting pushed in a new direction, and the repair crews hate seeing all the dents on our suits' arms and legs, but I don't see what else they're accomplishing."
"Maybe that's how they say hello? Or how they count coup? They come up, slap an enemy, then run away?"
Hue snorted. "Stupid way of doing either if you ask me."
"And what we did as teenagers to get people to notice us wasn't? I had neon green streaks when I was thirteen. Glow in the dark, too. Sure, I was noticed, but not in the way I wanted."
"Glow in the dark? Really? All I did was shave the sides of my head. Once. Then my mother laid down the law about that."
"Really." Renée shifted in her seat. "My mother only shrugged. Apparently, she hoped that my colour coordination would get better. Anyway, I stood out from the crowd, but the one person I wanted to notice me didn't even give me the time to day. Boys could be so oblivious."
"Tell me about it." Hue rolled her eyes. "There was this one bloke in university I fancied. Naturally, I tried to cross his path from time to time. Practically threw myself at him. Not. One. Peep."
Renée leaned forward in her chair. "What happened?"
"He introduced me to his boyfriend. Was my face red. Oi, that was embarrassing. And he didn't give off gay vibes, either, you know? So, lesson learned there. No more being subtle."
"I don't blame you. I was never into that sort of gaming with guys." Renée set her coffee mug down. "I preferred going out to the student bars during the week and the real ones on the weekend. At least there, you knew what the boys wanted."
"They always want that."
"That's what I hoped for." Renée smirked. "Fortunately, I had really accommodating roommates in university."
"I lived at home while I went. I had to get creative."
"I see that creativity came in handy here." Renée waved her hand to indicate the room. "You've got privacy, bed, coffee."
"All I'm missing is a man."
"There's Doctor Aoi. The only man on base."
Hue took a long gulp of her coffee. "He's not into meaningless sex. I've asked. I wasn't the first to ask him, either. Rumour has it that he's had proposals from women in the repair crew, other pilots, even command staff." She giggled. "Though I can't picture some of them with him. They'd break him."
"Maybe he doesn't realize how great it is having his pick of women." Renée joined in on the laughing. "Though, yeah, must get annoying after a while, being hit on all the time or just being seen as a sex object. I'll bet he has a better idea of a woman's perspective after this mission."
"I hope I can get a decent roll in the hay soon. I am not going celibate for a year."
"Are we expecting anyone else up here? Relief pilots, other countries? Nothing was mentioned to us during training, but surely we're not the only qualified women around."
Hue shrugged. "I've heard rumours that China's supposed to get involved, though the politics there keep changing. My Lieutenant is trying to get a second flight up here to at least work with us for a bit. Even the Yanks and Russians are getting antsy. Oh, speaking of which, watch out for Irene Weber, Eagle Flight. She'll eventually hit on your team. The longer she goes without a good lay, the more intense she gets."
Renée picked up her coffee mug. "I don't think I've met her."
"You'll recognize her. She looks like she never sees the light of day. Pale, blonde hair. Not quite an albino, but it's close."
"I'll keep an eye out for her." Renée finished the rest of her coffee. "I better get going. There's a few things I need to do before we launch this afternoon."
Darcy sat in the pilot's briefing room, reviewing the notes she made over the course of the morning. Her tea sat in a cup, cooling and ignored. The door slid open, the noise breaking through Darcy's concentration. Victoria and Dominique entered the briefing room and sat down opposite the Lieutenant. Darcy set down her datatab. "You two look like you want to tell me something."
Victoria and Dominique exchanged glances and a series of "you, first" pointing. With a sigh, Victoria took the hit and said, "These aliens are weird."
"That's what you wanted to tell me?"
"We looked at all the recordings. All. We can't figure out what they're doing. I'm not sure if they know what they're doing."
Darcy looked over at Dominique. "And you agree with this?"
"Sort of. Tori and I don't agree on the why. It looks like they're trying to pull the flights out of position, but then they don't do anything." Dominique shrugged. "At the same time, they seem to be scanning our suits, somehow."
"Darcy, you'd have to check the recordings yourself," Victoria said. "From what I've seen, the aliens just aren't doing anything tactically intelligent. Except," the brunette nodded at the tall blonde beside her, "for the scanning. That, I can confirm."
Darcy pulled up the request she'd received through email. "And that's where the neutrino scanner comes in?"
Victoria nodded. "They can't be using sonar, no air. The might be using radar, but not at a frequency we work on, but either direction in the frequency would still get noticed by someone, if not on patrol, then here on base."
"Beyond that, McGee," Dominique started, "their weapons should be effective at a longer range than they use them. And, well, how can I put it?" She glanced at Victoria. "Their appearance."
"Oh, right. The cloak."
Darcy waved her hand. "Hi. No using secret code when reporting to your commander. I don't speak geek."
Dominique took a deep breath before starting. "From what I can tell, the aliens pop in well within scanning range of our, that is, the other flights' power suits. I'm not sure if we're missing something or the recordings are off, or whatever."
"It's not happening with every encounter, either," Victoria added. "There is an volume of space where the alien suits will always appear. Patrols near or in that volume will get the aliens popping in. But, if the flights are further away, the base's scanners pick up the aliens first."
"From there, the patrols then close in and engage." Dominique slid a nano-SD card across the table to Darcy. "Everything we found is on that in a rough form. We did mark the start and stop times of what we think is key video."
"And, one other interesting statistic," Victoria said. "We shoot first two-thirds of the time."
Darcy nodded as she pocketed the memory card. "Can you two work on a full report after the patrol? Either one joint report or two separate ones. Include both your views, though, if you file a joint report."
"Sure thing," Dominique said.
Renée arrived, slightly out of breath. "Sorry for being late, McGee."
"Take a seat, Renée. Dom and Tori were just telling me their findings."
"I'm still working on mine." Renée sat down beside Dominique. "It's going to take some more time. I talked to Hue, er, Koala, from Kanagaroo Flight. She said that the aliens like to ram."
Victoria shifted her chair to see the rest of her teammates. "We noticed. Did Koala say if her suit got damaged?"
"Just dents, really. Nothing that needed a major repair. Why?"
Victoria looked over at Dominique. "A different type of scanning?"
Dominique chewed her lower lip as she thought over the information. "That's one hell of a way to determine what our suits are made of."
"If we're right."
Renée rolled her eyes. "You're thinking they're using momentum to determine the mass of our power suits?" Both the brunette and the blonde stared at her. "What? I took physics in high school. I remember that part."
"It's still insane, whatever it is the aliens are doing. Thanks. You've given me a lot to think about, and, please, Renée, keep talking to the other pilots." Darcy stood up. "I'm issuing some standing orders. If we encounter the aliens on patrol, do not shoot first. Block them, shoot back, but do not pull the trigger until either I give you a direct order or the aliens shoot at you. Also, if an alien suit looks like it's going to hit, open your thrusters full. Let's mess with their scanning there. In the meantime, go suit up and get ready for patrol. Dismissed."
"Sitting around and coasting isn't exactly fun anymore. Unless I can pull some aerobatics again."
"They're not doing a good job at invading, Major."
"Beaver One, you have permission for weapons free."
"No shooting unless the bogey gets hostile."