"I watched that video like you wanted. I don't think any of those marines died."
"Routine can be boring, and that, at least according to my boss, can get us complacent."
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."
"We shoot first two-thirds of the time."
First Contact of the Third Kind
June 29, 2128
"Okay, Princess, Dominatrix, take the overwatch position. Geek, you're with me, low over the moon." Darcy waited for the rest of Beaver Flight to acknowledge her orders. In three, two, one . . . Break!" She fired her side thrusters, pushing her suit away from the others' before beginning her dive towards the lunar surface. On her radar, she saw Victoria's suit following. Darcy establish a direct laser link to her partner's suit. "Geek, do you hear me?"
"Loud and clear, McGee."
"Keep your lidar pointed at the aliens' space."
"Already on it."
Darcy eased back on her dive, letting the moon pass below her. She feathered the thrusters, adjusting her vector to remain as parallel to the surface as possible. Hanging above her, the Earth gleamed blue. Beaver Flight had been flying patrols solo for several weeks with no contact with the aliens. Somehow, the aliens had always appeared when the other flights were on patrol, though the Beavers were on standby once when Tiger Flight encountered a lone alien suit. Even that sighting was brief, with the alien turning tail immediately.
"Loonie for your thoughts," Victoria said, derailing Darcy's train of thoughts.
"I thought the saying was 'penny for your thoughts'," Darcy corrected.
"We haven't had pennies for over a hundred years. So, what's up, McGee? Think today's the day?"
"No idea, Geek."
"I hope so. Sitting around and coasting isn't exactly fun anymore. Unless I can pull some aerobatics again. Can I?"
"Negative, Geek. No freaking out the radar operators at Darkside Control."
Victoria sighed over the link. "You're no fun, McGee."
"That's my job." Darcy angled her power suit into a lazy curve. "We're here to watch, not to be watched. Go put on a puppet show for them later if that's what you want."
"That reminds me. When are you going to be done that wall hanging? That wall is still bare."
"I'm waiting for more glue. The mechanics said no to more of theirs until the next shipment. Besides, weren't you working on something?"
"Yeah, but, erm, it, well, kinda fell apart."
Darcy laughed. "Sorry, Geek, but you just have bad luck making things with your hands."
"Hey, it's why I'm a theoretical physicist. I can't break sub-atomic particles. Maybe."
"CERN would offer you a job if you could."
"McGee, when is the next supply run due?"
"Why? In a rush to get the wall covered?"
"No, but I still need the neutrino sensor. Dom's makeshift Cherenkov radiation detector isn't cutting it. And I think the base would like the destruction of monitors and tablets to end."
Darcy blinked. "That's you? Christ, Geek, do you know how crazy the security staff is getting over missing electronics?"
"Yes. That's why I want something decent."
Over the regular channel, Renée said, "McGee, I'm picking up a bogey at zero seven nine mark two zero, distance approximately one two zero kilometres."
Darcy turned her radar scanning in the direction Renée gave. "Copy that, Princess. I see the bogey. You and Dom, intercept and get a closer look. Geek, increase altitude by five zero zero metres." Darcy flipped over to Darkside One's command channel. "Darkside Control, this is Beaver One. Contact, zero seven nine mark two zero, distance approximately one two zero kilometres."
"Beaver One, this is Darkside Control," the calm voice of Ensign Fay Henderson said. "We confirm bogey and two of Beaver Flight moving to intercept. We have no scheduled visitors for the day. Command gives the okay for weapons free."
"Weapons free, acknowledged." Darcy returned to her team's channel. "All Beavers, this is McGee. Weapons free approved."
"Acknowledged," Dominique said.
Darcy returned to her laser link with Victoria. "Keep an eye on the aliens' space."
"Still on it, McGee. Wait."
"What is it, Geek. Speak to me."
"I'm detecting Cherenkov radiation."
"No idea. I'm trying to find the source. This is why I need a proper detector, McGee. The sun? Gives off a lot of neutrinos and other fun forms of radiation that interferes with everything. Okay, not the sun. And . . ." Victoria's voice trailed off into nonsensical syllables. "Yes! It's coming from the alien space!"
Darcy pumped her arm. "Yes! Geek, form up on me. Stay within a hundred metres of my position. Be ready in case they try to rush through."
"You got it!"
As she increased the burn rate of her thrusters, Darcy switched over to the command channel. "Darkside Control, this is Beaver One. Investigating possible alien sighting with Beaver Four."
"Copy that, Beaver One," Fay said. "Eagle Flight is standing by for launch."
"Acknowledged. I'll shout if we need them. Beaver One out." Darcy switched to her team's frequency. "Dom, Princess, I'm checking out a signal with Geek. Dom, if there's a problem, call in to Darkside Control. Eagle Flight is standing by. We'll call if we need your help."
"We will, McGee," Dominique said.
Darcy checked her fuel reserves. "Okay, fuel should be good. Try to use laser comm just in case the aliens figure out our language and frequencies." She accelerated her power suit and began to close the distance.
As Darcy and Victoria approached the volume of space the physicist determined as the aliens' approach, the radar signals on their scopes increased in strength. Darcy feathered her controls, increasing the distance between her suit and Victoria's. She adjusted the gauss cannon, bring it to bear but kept her finger away from the trigger. At seven hundred metres distance to the blip, Darcy turned off her thrusters. The press of acceleration eased off her. Over the laser link, she said, "Geek, how's the detection?"
"Damn. False alarm, no, wait, contact! Minus ten degrees, approximately four hundred metres away."
"Copy that, McGee."
Darcy adjusted the vector of her power suit to intercept the newcomer. "Geek, was the bogey on screen at all?"
"Negative. McGee, you told me to scan. I scanned."
"Just checking. Let's stick to our plan. No shooting unless the bogey gets hostile. Understood?"
"Loud and clear, McGee," Victoria said.
The distance between Darcy and the alien shrank. Darcy's radar pinged as new objects appeared. The Lieutenant checked her holo-HUD, then looked out the armoured window of her power suit. "Geek, two more contacts. Switch to the command channel."
Darcy flipped over to the new frequency. "Darkside Control, this is Beaver One. Two more contacts."
"Beaver One, this is Darkside Control. Confirmed. Eagle Flight is standing by. ETA on launch is five minutes. Do you want backup?"
After a quick moment calculating risks, Darcy answered, "Affirmative on Eagle launch, Darkside Control. We'll hold out until arrival."
"Launching Eagle Flight."
"Beaver One, this is Beaver Four," Victoria said. "First bogey accelerating."
"Let him come to us, Geek." Darcy eased off her thruster controls. "Let's see what they do."
"On it." On Darcy's radar scope, Victoria's power suit matched vectors.
Darcy watched the blips representing the alien suits on her radar scope. The lead alien cut off its acceleration; the two newcomers increased their speed to match their leader's. Darcy glanced at the blips representing Dominique and Renée; they were still on course to intercept their bogey. She checked own vector, making sure that her suit wasn't on a course to crash into the moon.
"Beaver One, this is Darkside Control. You should be within effective weapons range." The confusion in Fay's voice was evident.
"Acknowledged, Darkside Control." Darcy kept an eye on the approaching alien suit.
"Beaver One, you have permission for weapons free. Repeat, you have permission for weapons free."
"Understood, Darkside Control. We are not under fire, repeat, we are not under fire." The lead alien fired its thrusters, picking up speed. Darcy checked the suit's vector. "Geek, possible ram!"
"I see it. Who is he after?"
"Increase distance between us by one zero zero metres."
"Roger, McGee. Increasing distance."
Darcy's eyes flicked to the radar screen to make sure Victoria's suit did move away. She then looked ahead. The burn of the alien suit's thrusters flared blue-hot. Behind it, smaller flashes showed Darcy where the other aliens were and that they were increasing their speed. The first alien broke hard, aiming towards Victoria. "Geek, brace, brace, brace!"
Victoria's suit flared to life as its pilot angled it to lead with its shoulder. If the alien noticed, it didn't show it as it continued on its collision course. The space between the two suits shrank. A loud clang filled the radio speakers. Victoria's suit spun from the hit.
"Geek, report!" Darcy waited a moment. "Geek, do you read?"
"I'm here. Stand by!"
Darcy turned her suit to face Victoria's. The alien tumbled head over heels in the low gravity, thrusters firing to right itself. Victoria, however, ignored her attitude and used her suit's arm to backhand the alien. The blow, though glancing, was still enough to add a yaw spin to the alien suit. Victoria steadied her suit's spin enough to get its legs under her. She reached up and grabbed a flailing leg.
"Geek, what are you doing?"
"Darkside Control to Beaver Flight." Fay's voice was replaced by Major di Carlo's. "Beaver One, what are you doing?"
"As Beaver Four said, taking a prisoner." A klaxon whooped. "Missile lock! Taking evasive maneuvers." Two smaller blips appeared and streaked on screen. Darcy forced her suit into a dive, aiming towards the dusty lunar surface. Two pinpoints of light grew closer. Twisting her power suit, Darcy brought her gauss cannon up. She tracked the missiles, waiting as they approached. As the klaxon grew to a blare, Darcy held down the trigger. Metal slugs chewed through space. Darcy kept the barrel of the cannon in a tight circle, trying to keep stray ammunition at a minimum. One missile exploded in a bright burst of light, obscuring the second. The blare became a high pitched whine. Darcy fired her front thrusters, adding their acceleration to the moon's gravity. The second missile, long, thin, passed a few metres above her. She twisted her suit, bringing her gauss cannon in line. Darcy thumbed the trigger, sending a quick burst at the missile. At least one of the slugs hit, turning the missile into a rapidly expanding cloud of debris.
Darcy scanned her radar, looking for the alien suits. Victoria still had one in her suit's metal grip. The other two altered their vector, trying to intercept Darcy herself. Darcy broke out of her dive, returning to a higher altitude.
"Beaver One, this is Eagle One." The West Coast accent of Laura Lipinski, Eagle Flight's commander, was unmistakeable. "ETA four minutes. Can you hold out?"
"Eagle One, affirmative." Darcy flicked her gauss cannon to single shot. The targeting crosshair on her holo-HUD flickered in acknowledgement. She sighted in on one of the approaching aliens, then fired. Her shot struck the alien suit's shoulder, sending it into a lazy spin.
"Crap!" Victoria yelled. "Neutrino emission increasing."
"No need to yell, Geek," Darcy said. She looked at her scope. "I see nothing new."
"Me, neither. Hey, whoa, wait!" The alien suit in Victoria's grip opened its thrusters, starting to pull the brunette's suit with it.
"Let him go, Geek!" Darcy checked the other two aliens; both were retreating.
Victoria sighed. "Letting go." With the mass of Victoria's suit gone, the alien rocketed away.
"Good work, Geek."
"I had him."
"I know. But, ther will be a next time."
"Beaver Flight, this is Darkside Control," di Carlo said. "Return to base for debriefing."
"Darkside Control, this is Beaver One," Darcy answered. "Returning to base."
Once the hangar repressurized, Darcy leapt out of her power suit. She marched at a brisk pace to the crew chief. "Sergeant, first thing you do to Lieutenant Grieg's suit is look for metal particles. She had an alien suit in her grasp. We might be able to find out what their suits are made from."
"Yes, ma'am," Sergeant Miller said. "Anything else?"
"That's all. Thanks."
"Any time, Lieutenant."
Darcy walked towards the pilot's briefing room, catching up with Victoria on the way. "Nice going, Geek!" she said, slapping the brunette on the back.
"I had him," Victoria said, dejected.
"I know! I didn't realize that we could do that with our suits."
Victoria gave Darcy a sidelong glance. "Really? I have a lot of media to show you what you can do with mecha."
"I'm sure you do." Noticing her pilot's mood, Darcy said, "What's with you?"
"I had him, Darcy. I could've pulled him here."
Darcy opened the door to the briefing room and ushed Victoria inside. "Don't beat yourself up yet. You were the first to engage in hand-to-hand with an alien suit. I've got Sergeant Miller checking for alien debris in your suit's hands. Don't sell yourself short just yet."
"Maybe." Victoria sighed. "I got caught up in the moment."
"That happens. Look, if it means anything, this was our first time in combat. Ever. We survived. That alone is a reason to celebrate. Anything else beyond that? Icing on the survival cake."
Victoria allowed herself a small smile. "And I was awesome out there, wasn't I?"
Darcy took a seat at the briefing room's table. "Definitely. You got hit, recovered, then delivered a smackdown that alien will never forget."
The hangar depressurization warning sounded. The briefing room's airlock closed automatically. Darcy looked out the window and watched as Dominique and Renée returned. Between them, they carried a four metre long cylindrical metal cannister, which the set down against the wall opposite from the briefing room. Fans kicked in, returning atmosphere to the hangar.
After a few minutes, Renée and Dominique entered the briefing room. "I saw that you two had fun today," Dominique said. "It looked exciting."
"It was!" Victoria sat down on the edge of the table. "You should've seen me! Us! I tackled one suit, and Darcy shot down missiles."
Renée gave a wan smile. "Sounds like fun."
Darcy nodded towards the metal cannister in the hangar. "Any idea what that is?"
Dominique shrugged. "No idea. It's not natural, though. Definitely some sort of worked metal."
"I don't know if it's a good idea to bring it in," Renée said. "Could be a bomb."
Victoria looked at the cannister. "It wasn't moving fast enough. Probably would've missed the base completely if we hadn't picked it up."
"I feel so relieved hearing that."
"It's too solid to be a bomb," Dominique said. "Between the radar and lidar, I could get an idea of its thickness. Oh, it also was vibrating a bit."
"Vibrating?" Darcy repeated. "Vibrating how?"
"Like there's an engine inside. Machinery, at least."
The door to the rest of the base opened. Major di Carlo entered, followed by her aide, Lieutenant Barbara Finnigan. Once the door was closed, di Carlo faced Darcy directly. "What was that you pulled out there, Lieutenant?"
Darcy came to attention. "Ma'am, I was on patrol."
"Lieutenant Kincaid, the purpose of the patrols is to defend Darkside One and the Earth from alien invasion. Why did you not shoot the invading aliens?"
"They're not doing a good job at invading, Major."
"You're rating the aliens' abilities now, Lieutenant?"
"Ma'am, I've been studying the attacks. I have not been able to figure out their objective."
"That's not in your purview. Darkside One and the Pentagon have top minds working on that."
Darcy nodded. "But they're not out there. Today was the first time they dropped something else beyond just their suits. Today was the first time we engaged in close combat. Today was the first time they fired missiles."
"All of you, take a seat." Di Carlo paused while her aide and Beaver Flight sat down. "Ladies, I understand you're new here. However, don't you think the other flights have gone through the same thing?"
Victoria held up her hand. "Including the wrestling and the missiles?"
Di Carlo addressed the brunette. "None of the other flights allowed the aliens to get in close."
"Major," Darcy began, "the other flights also initiated combat in, what was it, Geek? Two-thirds? Three-quarters?"
"Two-thirds," Victoria confirmed. "At range, without closing in."
"As Lieutenant Grieg said, ma'am. Beyond ramming, we don't know what the aliens do at close range. Now, we have a better idea."
Major di Carlo furrowed her brow. "And what was this about neutrinos I heard?"
Darcy nodded at Victoria and Dominique. "My team has come up with a way to scan for neutrino emissions, to go along with our other scanning abilities. Right now, it's relatively crude, but we did get a surge of neutrinos prior to the arrival and departure of the aliens."
"And just where did Beaver Flight get its neutrino scanners?"
"Technically, it's not a neutrino scanner, exactly," Victoria said. "I'm actually looking for Cherenkov radiation caused by neutrinos."
Di Carlo frowned. "Let me rephrase that, Lieutenant Grieg. Where did Beaver Flight get its Cherenkov radiation scanners?"
"Scanner, singular. And more of a detector. Scanners imply directional control."
"Lieutenant, skip the details. Where?"
Dominique raised her hand. "I modified salvaged tablet screens so that they would flash blue when hit by neutrinos, thus the radiation. I do have a procedure written down for it, in case anyone else wanted to make one before a proper neutrino detector arrived."
Di Carlo perched on the corner of the table. "Just why did you think you needed anything like that?"
"To see what wavelengths the aliens' scanners worked on," Victoria said.
"Lieutenant Kincaid," di Carlo said, "did you know your pilots were doing this?"
Darcy nodded. "Yes, ma'am. In fact, I assigned them the tasks that led up to the creation of the detectors."
"We watched the flight recordings from previous raids," Victoria added. "Dom and I noticed that the aliens pointed their arms at other pilots but never shot anything."
"We started wondering why, came up with a theory," Dominique said. "As it turns out, it looks like we have a way to tell when the aliens are arriving."
"Based on neutrino emissions."
Di Carlo turned to Renée. "And what do you think about that?"
Renée shrugged. "I'm just a linguist, ma'am. I'm barely following the science they're using as it is. I couldn't say if it's good or bad."
"Yes, ma'am?" Darcy stood up.
"Next time, just shoot the aliens, okay?"
Di Carlo left the briefing room, her aide following her. Darcy waited for the door to close before letting out her breath. "Well, that went better than hoped."
Dominique stood up. "She seemed upset."
"I think we broke an unwritten rule," Darcy said. "We weren't defending vigourously enough."
"Really, the aliens aren't being vigourous in their attacks," Victoria said. "Only three of them? And they ran so soon? Are they really invading?"
"What about the cylinder?" Renée asked. "For all we know, it's a Trojan horse."
"How many can they fit in that?"
Dominique sized up the cylinder. "Depends on how big they are. They could be half my size for all we know."
"Renée's half your size."
"Actually, Hue from Kangaroo Flight is half Dom's height," Renée said. "But, point taken."
In the hangar, technicians set up a heavy tarp around the cylinder, blocking view to it from the briefing room. "Show's over, ladies," Darcy said. "Go clean up, then we'll meet in the mess hall. I want to hear in a more relaxed setting about your thoughts from today's patrol. We'll meet in an hour."
The mess hall was quiet by the time all of Beaver Flight arrived. Darcy filled a pitcher of water and grabbed glasses for her and her team. As she arrived at their table, Victoria had her datatab out while Renée and Dominique finished a hand of cribbage. Darcy set down the water and glasses. "Help yourself." She took her seat.
"Hi, Darcy," Victoria said, not looking up from her tablet.
Renée started pouring the water. "Exciting day, definitely."
"How are you faring, Renée?" Darcy asked.
"I survived." Renée set down the pitcher and picked up her glass. "And no shakes. I wasn't in the fight, though, not like you and Tori."
"It was still our first alien encounter."
Victoria snorted. "Some win."
"Now, now, Tori," Darcy chided. "In my books, it's a win. We met the enemy and they fled."
"And, we got an artifact for the science types here to examine," Dominique added. "We were productive."
"And we didn't even get hurt." Renée took a sip of water. "All that we're missing is a beer." She held up her glass. "This doesn't come close."
"I'll buy us a round when we're back on Earth," Darcy said. "You're sure you're fine, Renée?"
"I'm fine, Darcy."
"Good. Dom? What about you?"
Dominique shrugged. "Good. Same as Renée, really. We had the easy job."
"Other than wondering what the tube had," Renée said. "A little tense wondering if it'd explode, until Dom scanned it."
"After that, it was more just hearing what you were doing." Dominique took a long drink of her water. "But, we were too far away and it was over before we could decide."
Darcy stretched her legs out under the table. "Good to hear, at least. Tori?"
Victoria set down her tablet. "I'm fine, Darcy, really. Just miffed that my prisoner got away."
"You were the one rammed, Tori. I just want to make sure that you're okay."
"No post traumatic stress, I promise. What about you, Darcy? They shot at you."
"They missed." Darcy smiled.
"No way, Darcy," Dominique said. "They didn't miss."
"I wasn't hit, then. Same difference."
Victoria stared at Darcy. "Wasn't this your first time under fire, too?"
Renée added to the piling. "Darcy, if you're concerned for us, we're concerned for you. Those missiles were close, at least from what I saw on my radar."
"Guys, I know, but I'm fine, really," Darcy protested. "I can handle it. Maybe if the fight lasted longer, I'd be more concerned."
Victoria picked her tablet up again. "That's what has me. That was the shortest invasion yet. They popped in, charged at me, shot at you, then ran away. I've seen kittens last longer play-fighting."
Darcy leaned forward in her chair. "So, what do you think they were doing?"
"Testing the new guys," Renée suggested. "All of our suits are unique, even the markings and colours. If they can see us wherever they're hiding, they can tell which flight is on patrol."
Dominique nodded. "Makes sense to me. Why send a full force to test a flight of four? Send a few pilots who can get close, scan, and leave."
"Or count coup," Victoria suggested. "How close can they get before we start shooting? We may have messed with their heads today."
"Counting coup doesn't work with the earlier kidnappings, though," Darcy said. She drained her water in one long gulp. "Why take the men on the research base if that's all they're trying to do?"
"I'm just brainstorming here."
Renée set her glass down. "In that case, we're dealing with a gang, not an army. They're building up their courage to actually attack us."
"What if they claimed the moon as their turf?" Dominique added. "We come in, better armed and trained, with different colours, so it looks to them like several gangs are teaming up against them. Now they're trying to figure out which one is the weakest."
"Gangs with spaceships?" Darcy said, incredulous.
Victoria nodded. "Stolen spaceships."
"And weapon systems that they still haven't figured out." Dominique raised her glass to Victoria.
"Oh, and teenaged gang, too, or whatever a teenager is for the aliens," Renée added. "Teenaged girls. Thus taking just men, to do with as they will."
Darcy turned her attention to the Quebecoise. "I think I just learned far too much about your adolescent fantasies."
"Oh, not mine. My best friend's. Though she would've made them do her homework for her, in exchange for a flash of breast."
"Doesn't work," Victoria said. "The geeks would be too distracted by the idea of a boob to do their work let alone hers."
"And you know this how?"
"My older sister tried that once, minus the kidnapping." Victoria shrugged. "She got a few takers, but none of them did the work."
"She flashed them first, I bet," Dominique said. "Never pay up front like that."
"Guys, we're getting off track." Darcy poured herself another glass of water. "I really don't think we're dealing with a gang of horny teenaged space girls here."
The intercom crackled to life. "Attention all flight leaders. There will be a briefing in Briefing Room Three at seventeen forty five. There will be a briefing in Briefing Room Three at seventeen forty-five. That is all."
Darcy checked the time. "Not even fifteen minutes from now."
"Weird," Victoria said. "What's up?"
"I'll know after the meeting. Wrap up time. Your standing orders are the same as before – shoot back only."
Renée raised an eyebrow. "Major di Carlo isn't going to like that."
Darcy held up her hands. "She told me to shoot. She never said anything to any of you about not shooting. And, until she says otherwise, no shooting first."
Darcy arrived at Briefing Room Three to see Laura of Eagle Flight and Yulya of Bear Flight already seated. Seeing a chair along the wall opposite the American pilot, Darcy made her way over and sat. She poured herself a glass of water and settled in. "Any idea what's up?" she asked.
"Nyet," Yulya answered.
"You've got me," Laura said. "Must have something to do with what your team brought in."
Yulya leaned forward towards Darcy. "Interesting fighting technique your team showed. I never considered hand-to-hand combat. What ever was going through your mind?"
"Yulya, lay off her." Laura refilled her glass of water. "This was her flight's first time in combat. It's natural to lose discipline under pressure."
"Yeah, thanks." Darcy try to hide her sarcasm. "However, if we don't try something, we'll never know if it'll work. And my pilot showed that we can use our power suits in close combat if we need to."
"We don't need to," Yulya said. "There's no reason to. They have nothing to hide behind. They run away if we shoot them enough."
Darcy sighed. "Has no one wondered why they turn tail so quickly? We're not exactly overwhelming them."
"That's not my job."
"Really, Darcy," Laura said. "That's a job for the brass. We're here to defend the base and the Earth."
"I just think that we have a chance right now to find out what the aliens are doing, besides popping in and out." Darcy took a sip of water. When the door slid open again, Darcy watched Baz Minogue of Kangaroo Flight enter the room. "Anyway, I seem to be the senior Canuck here. I need to consider the needs of my flight and my commanding officers back home, too."
Yulya scowled. "The needs of all of us here at the base should also figure in your thinking, Lieutenant."
Baz regarded Yulya and Darcy, one at a time. "What did I miss? Oh, and congrats on surviving your first contact with the aliens, Darcy. Laura, can you pass the water, please?"
"Darcy is trying to do the work of the experts at the Pentagon," Laura said as she handed the pitcher to Baz. "If the aliens want to make it easy for us to shoot them, why not oblige them?"
"We're the only ones providing any intel on the aliens." Darcy leaned forward. "We need to gather information, even if we don't take a prisoner or destroy a suit. There has to be a reason why they took their own dead and wounded back with them."
Yulya snorted. "Because they don't want us to find out more about them."
Darcy turned to face the Russian. "That's a circular argument. Is it because of religious reasons? Policy? Or have they watched too many old science fiction about alien abduction and think we're going to anally probe them?"
"We wouldn't probe them," Laura said.
Baz poured herself a glass of water. "No, just cut them open and study their insides."
"They could be doing that to the men they took already." Yulya slammed back the rest of her water, then slammed the glass down on the table.
"We don't know that." Laura patted Yulya's arm. "We have no idea why our people were taken."
Darcy held her hands up in surrender. "It doesn't matter. I've been given orders to shoot on sight by the Major herself. The question is moot now."
Lieutenant Finnigan entered the briefing room, followed by Priya Patel of Tiger Flight. "Hello, ladies." She set down her notebook at the head of the table. "Major di Carlo will be here shortly." Priya sat down beside Yulya.
"Hello, Barb," Laura greeted. "Nice to see you, too."
Lieutenant Finnigan ignored the commander of Eagle Flight. "This meeting will be kept brief. As you know, pilots from Beaver Flight retrieved an artifact that appeared in low lunar orbit during their patrol."
Darcy nodded. "I remember that." Laura and Baz snickered.
"Since then," Lieutenant Finnigan continued, ignoring the comment and the giggling, "Darkside One engineers have examined the object, trying to determine its function. Major di Carlo is finishing up with Captain Markova."
Laura rolled her eyes. "Barb, get to the point already. What was that thing?"
Lieutenant Finnigan pulled her minitab from her pocket. She bridged the device to the briefing room's holodisplay. A three-dimensional image of the retrieved cylinder appeared over the table. "Captain Markova's team determined that the object had machinery running inside. After preliminary examinations found no explosive devices or other means of injury, Captain Markova's team discovered that the object had open space inside."
"In other words, it was hollow, yes?" Baz shook her head.
"Correct." Lieutenant Finnigan tapped at her device. A section of the cylinder's image turned green. "This area was determined to be filled with fuel." She tapped her minitab again. A different section turned blue. "This are was hollow but not empty. Once Captain Markova made that determination, Major di Carlo placed the area on high security, limiting the number of personnel allowed to access the object."
"Did that include you?" Laura asked.
Lieutenant Finnigan furrowed her brow. "No, it did not."
"Then why are we here?" Yulya asked. "We've had one alien raid already today. They could be using the cylinder as a distraction."
"You bring up valid points, Lieutenant Emelin. Darkside Control is maintaining a watch on radar screen as we speak."
"Lieutenant," Darcy said. "So far, you've told us nothing, and used a lot of words to say nothing. As impressive as that is, why are we here? You could have just as easily sent a briefing through email."
Lieutenant Finnigan nodded at Darcy. "You are correct, Lieutenant Kincaid. However, Major di Carlo ordered the meeting."
"Where is she, Barb?" Laura picked up her water. "Eagle Flight should be on patrol right now."
The door opened. Lieutenant Finnigan called out, "Attention!" as Major di Carlo entered. The four pilots stood up, arms at their side.
"As you were," di Carlo said. She joined Lieutenant Finnigan at the head of the table. "Barbara, take a seat."
"Yes, Major." Lieutenant Finnigan sat down between Darcy and Baz.
"I trust everyone has been briefed on the preliminary findings on the cylinder?"
Major di Carlo brought out her datatab and connected it to the table's holographic system. "Good. Now you get to hear the rest of the story." She pointed at the blue area of the cylinder's image. "This section is approximately eight feet long. The outer shell is about seven inches thick and was airtight until we opened it. The atmosphere inside was a mix of oxygen and nitrogen, about seventy per cent oxygen. No other gases, trace or inert were found." Di Carlo saw Baz's hand rising. "I'll answer all questions later, Lieutenant." She took a deep breath. "Inside was a woman, apparently Doctor Kayla Asselin but DNA tests are being done to confirm her identity. Doctor Asselin was part of the staff of the first lunar base that was attacked. Her status has been listed as Missing since the first attack. She is currently in a coma and being treated by Darkside One's medical staff. Now, questions?"
Baz raised her hand. "Major, are we sure that this is the same woman?"
"She matches her ID photo. Fingerprints are also a match. However, surgery can take care of alterations like that."
"Don't you think it's convenient that she's in a coma?" Yulya asked.
Di Carlo turned to face the Russian. "Right now, anything is possible. However, she was unconscious when we opened the cylinder and she's being held in quarentine."
"Major?" Darcy raised her hand. "How long could she have survived in the cylinder?"
"Captain Markova estimated that, with the fuel in the cylinder and the rate of consumptions, two or three days. Possibly more, given the woman's medical status."
"Cold sleep?" Laura asked.
"We can't tell. Opening the cylinder started a new set of machinery that we're still investigating." Major di Carlo shrugged. "Right now, it's anyone's guess. Captain Markova may request assistance from your specialists."
"They'll be available."
"As will mine," Yulya said.
Di Carlo faced Baz and Darcy. "Can I assume that of Beaver and Kangaroo Flights?"
"Of course," Baz said. "It'd give Peri something new to do."
Darcy nodded. "Let me know who you need, Major."
"The material of the cylinder," Yulya started, "what sort of metal is it?"
"The engineers are still running tests. Their best guess right now is that it's an alloy, but they're still working out the composites."
"Major, Lieutenant Pearson might be able to help," Darcy said. "That's in her specialty."
"Thanks, Lieutenant. I'll keep her in mind if we need more hands." Di Carlo sat down. "Right now, that cylinder is the key to many questions we have. It also opened up a lot of new ones. However, it's going to take time. We won't be able to send it back to Earth, not without a lot of questions opening up. I'm leaving it up to each of you on how to tell your flights what was found. It's going to get out anyway; Darkside One isn't a large base and people will talk. Your job is to make sure no rumours get out. Barbara, I'll need you to write up the official release for the base. I want to see it before you send it out to all."
"Yes, ma'am," Lieutenant Finnigan said.
"In the meantime, Lieutenant Kincaid, you said that your team developed a neutrino detector?"
"Yes, Major." Darcy cocked her head in confusion.
"Share how you built it with the other flights. I'll work on getting spare tablets so your team doesn't get in trouble with base security."
Darcy's cheeks flushed red. "Thank you, ma'am."
Major di Carlo stood up. "Dismissed."
Dominique returned to her shared quarters. Inside, a large burlap sack sat just inside the door, the monthly mail delivery. The lanky blonde knelt down to open the sack and look inside. A number of envelopes and packages were visible within. She picked up the delivery and sat down on her bunk.
Creating four piles, Dominique sorted through the mail. Among the envelopes, she found her issues of the SAE magazine, a copy of a quarterly physics journal for Victoria, a number of envelopes with Darcy's name hand-written in careful lettering, and several packages for Renée marked fragile. Once done the sorting, Dominique set the mail on her teammate's beds for them to discover, then returned to her own bed. One by one, she opened her envelopes, savouring the letters from her friends and family. Her sister's letter included a photograph of her new kitten and news of moving out for university. Her parents' included photos of her sister's graduation; the accompanying letter trying to remain light despite their worry for Dominique.
Dominique allowed herself a sad smile. Right now, her family would be preparing for Canada Day – packing to go to the cottage for an extended weekend, getting the fireworks, preparing the big feast for the day. She sighed. She'd missed a small handful of the gatherings because of work and school, but she'd still managed to get to most, even if it was for a couple of hours. This time, though. This time, she was too far to even call.
Renée stepped into the room, stopping when she saw Dominique stretched out in her bed. "There you are."
Dominique looked up from her letter. "Hi, Renée. Your mail's up on your bunk."
"Thanks." The red haired Quebecoise clambered up to her bed. "About time these got here."
Dominique rolled out of her bed and stood up. "What did you get?"
Renée opened one of her packages. "Remember how everyone kept telling us to get a new hobby? Mine just came in." She pulled out a set of brushes from the package. "I'll be getting into painting, in a way."
"What are you going to use as a canvas, our walls?"
"I'm tempted." Renée opened another package. "But, no. I'm painting small statues. Stuff that's cheap." She held one of the statues up, pulling away the paper protecting it to reveal a dolphin. "I can work on it here or in the lounge and it shouldn't be too messy. And, when we leave, the statues can cheer up the next pilots."
Victoria entered. "Hi, guys! Oh, did the mail come in? Excellent!"
"Hi, Tori," Dominique greeted. "Yeah, while we were out. Yours is in your bed."
"Thanks, Dom! Renée, I didn't know you painted minis. Do you do requests?"
"Minis?" Renée blinked in confusion. "What do you mean?"
Victoria pointed at the dolphin in Renée's hand. "Miniatures, like what you're holding. If you take requests, I've got a few people who could use a mini for the weekly game I run. We're getting tired of using salt shakers and washers."
"Oh. You game about dolphins?"
Dominique stepped away from her bunk bed. "Tori, your gaming, does anyone play a dolphin?"
"Why would we do that? What I was thinking was getting a friend to send up some plastic minis, like a wizard or a warrior. Can you paint something like that, Renée?"
Renée shrugged. "I don't know if I can paint the dolphin, Tori. I'm trying something new. I don't know how well it'll turn out."
"Let me know, okay?" Victoria climbed up to her bed and began going through her mail.
"Guys, what do you normally do for Canada Day?"
"That's easy," Renée said. "Enjoy a second long weekend."
"Head out to the fireworks, then drink myself silly," Victoria answered.
"One beer, then?"
"Ha, ha, Renée." Victoria blew her roommate a raspberry.
"Tori, how can we tell if you're silly because you're drunk?" Dominique asked. "You're not quite normal to begin with."
"I'll be wearing a lampshade, silly." Victoria opened one of her packages. "Cookies!"
"Good thing there's no beer or wearable lampshades on base." Renée started unpacking paints. "Water-based. I hope grey water is okay."
"Seriously, guys, Canada Day is coming," Dominique said. "We're the only Canadians here. We need to do something."
"Can we get the cook to make something Canadian?" Renée suggested.
"Like barbecued salmon, or a reasonable facsimile?" Victoria suggested.
"Salmon? Really?" Renée set down her paints. "That's what you barbecue?"
Victoria nodded. "What else are we going to cook outside? Trout?"
Renée made a face. "Normally, I wander around and get chips from chip trucks."
"The grease-mobiles? Ugh."
"Don't knock it, Tori," Dominique said. "I survived some days just by finding a chip truck. Mind, what we really need are Beavertails, covered with chocolate. Those are what made Canada Day for me."
"You cut the tail off a beaver?" Victoria looked horrified. "What sort of beast are you?"
Dominique rolled her eyes. "It's a treat. Have you never been to Ottawa, Tori?"
"I've had those!" Renée dropped down to the floor. "During the winter, skating on the Canal. It's some sort of pastry."
"It just looks like a beaver's tail, Tori."
"That can't be hard to make here," Victoria said. "I mean, that's, what, just flour, sugar, and flavouring, right?"
"And chocolate," Renée added.
"I can talk to the kitchen staff," Dominique said. "I could ask them if they can make it."
"That just leaves the fireworks." Victoria laid back on her bed. "Maybe we can get Darcy to shoot down more missiles."
The door opened. "No, we won't be asking Darcy to do that." Darcy looked around the room. "Though you could make Darcy happy by sitting down."
Victoria sat up again. "Hi, Darcy."
"The mail came in." Dominique sat down on her bed. "I put your stuff on your bunk."
Renée sat down beside Dominique. "What's up?"
Darcy leaned against her bunk bed. "Huge news about that object you and Dom brought in, Renée. The rumour mill is going to go crazy soon, so Major di Carlo wants us flight commanders to tell you pilots what's what."
"What is what?" Victoria asked.
"The cylinder turned out to have a missing woman inside. The doctors are still trying to confirm her identity, but she maybe have gone missing in first alien attack." Darcy sat down on her bed.
"Wait," Renée said, "I thought only men went missing. As in, there were no women until Lieutenant Emelin was left behind. Where did this missing woman come from?"
"Some details were left out in our briefings during training."
Dominique raised an eyebrow. "That's a huge detail to leave out."
"Guys," Victoria started, "no one else knows that anyone is missing, just that something happened on the research station. The conspiracy theorists had a field day there."
"Tori's right," Darcy said. "Look, it's nothing that can be fixed right now. I only found out after we arrived here, and I was ordered to keep my mouth shut about it. Cat's out of the bag now, thanks to us."
Renée pursed her lips. "How is the woman from the cylinder? Is she alive?"
"Alive, yes. In a coma right now. I doubt it's from anything you and Dom did, though. Captain Markova said her life support would've lasted several days. You two bringing her in may have helped her."
"We did good, Renée," Dominique said, rubbing her roommate's shoulder.
"You did at that." Darcy raised her hands to give the pilots high fives. "And, you no longer have to steal tablet screens."
Victoria poked her head in above Darcy. "My neutrino detectors finally came in?"
"Not quite. Major di Carlo wants your design plans so the other flights can build their own. She's going to order more tablets for this purpose."
"It'd be easier with a proper detector."
"It worked, though," Dominique said. "We knew when the aliens were coming."
"It gives us a small edge," Darcy said. "We need to figure out what they're up to."
Renée shrugged. "Maybe that woman we found can help us when she gets out of her coma."
"Until then," Dominique said, "we're no further ahead."
"Sure we are," Victoria said. "We made big discoveries today. First, we now know that they have missiles. Well, rockets, at least, with no guidance. Second, we know we can punch them with our power suits. I'll bet they weren't expecting that."
"And third," Darcy said. "They're now facing us. While everyone else is following proper procedure, we're going to be the random element that breaks any good analysis of everyone's tactics. No more popping in and out at random for them. We'll make sure they know what they're facing."
"Does this mean we can make our own fireworks?" Victoria asked.
Darcy fell backwards on to her bed. "No, Tori, we can't. I think Command is afraid we might be too awesome and the other flights will be jealous."
"Let's keep our eyes sharp. Last thing we want is to get caught with our pants down at the end of our shift."
"There was a neutrino surge."
"It's official. I miss home."