"Neutrino emissions," Victoria called. "Source is – Darcy, look out!"
"Are you sure? Princess, this isn't like helping someone with a broken leg hop around."
"It's official, I miss home."
"It's been a long day, at least for me."
Chapter 10 - Full Throttle
July 12, 2128
Darcy returned to her quarters after her breakfast. She knew she should have skipped the eggs; something was just off with them. Maybe a quick rest on her bed would settle her stomach. As Darcy entered her room, her hopes for a rest were dashed upon the rocks of disappointment. Victoria had the holodisplay on. Darcy recognized the movie playing. "Tori, again? This makes, what, four times in as many days you've seen the movie."
Victoria looked up from the film. "Hi, Darcy. Yeah, I know, but I need to see the car chase again, and it doesn't make sense if I don't start from the beginning. Besides, Anya wants me to run a game based on the movie. I'm taking notes."
Darcy shook her head. She picked her way through the room to her bed and sat down. "Anya?"
"She's part of the Russian team, working in maintenance. Nice girl, really."
"What's up with you? You don't normally come back here in the morning." Victoria paused the movie. "Do you need to go to Sickbay?" She walked over to Darcy's bed. "Can I feel your forehead?" Victoria reached out with her hand.
Darcy swatted the hand away. "I'm good. I had the eggs this morning and they're not sitting well."
"Ah yes, the eggs. I left at least half of mine on the plate."
"I just need to lie down for a bit." Darcy laid back in her bed. "I'll try to ignore you and your movie."
"Don't worry." Victoria turned off the holodisplay. "It's not like I won't have time later to take notes. Need anything? Tea?"
"I'm good, thanks." A klaxon blared, startling both women. Darcy rolled out of bed, landing on her feet. "Ready room, now!"
Darcy bolted out the door, Victoria close on her heels. "What's going on?" the brunette asked as they ran through the corridors.
"Wait for it." Darcy threaded through a small team heading towards the engineering section. "We should be hearing the call in a moment."
As if summoned, Fay's voice came over the speakers. "Attention all pilots. All pilots, report to hangar for launch. Repeat, all pilots report for launch."
"There. Move it, Tori!"
The two women arrived at the ready room the same time Major di Carlo did. They let the Major go in first before entering. Behind them, all of Kangaroo Flight rushed in. Dominique and Renée followed soon after. Di Carlo cleared her throat to get the pilots' attention. "Bear Flight just reported contact. Tiger Flight has already launched. Both flights report more aliens incoming and base radar confirmed it. Suit up, launch. I'll get Eagle Flight prepped once you're gone. Go!"
Hue of Kangaroo Flight muttered a curse. "Now they decide to zerg rush."
"Suit, now," Baz said. "Move it, girls!"
"You heard the Major," Darcy said to Beaver Flight. "Get going!"
The pilots filed through the open airlock to the hangar and ran to their power suits. Darcy's suit still showed the scars of the repairs done to its leg. She patted the weld seam before climbing in. Once in, Darcy turned on the radio to the command channel. She heard the chatter from both Bear and Tiger Flights, with Fay's cool voice passing along commands and asking questions.
With the emergency, Darcy bypassed the standard start-up sequence, focusing on getting the suit started. The maintenance crew would get upset at the extra work they'd have to do once she returned, but if the aliens were coming in a larger wave than normal, then Darcy had no choice.
Darcy waited as the rest of Beaver Flight formed up behind her. Kangaroo Flight launched first, running out on to the lunar landscape. On the signal from Darkside Control, Darcy led her flight outside. On her radar scope, she saw a number of blips overhead. The friend-or-foe function marked the friendlies, leaving several dozen marked as enemy or unknown. Darcy turned on the laser communicator. "Alright, Beaver Flight. We've drilled this. Form up on me. Keep an eye out for new bogeys and let's help out where we can. Dominatrix, when we take flight, I want you to hang back a bit. Let's mess around with their visual perception. Geek, Princess, spread out a little. Single fire until we get closer. We don't want to cause friendly fire casualties."
The rest of Beaver Flight called in their acknowledgements. Darcy fired her thrusters, taking flight. She angled her power suit to intercept a dogfight between Bear Flight and several alien suits. The fight became a furball as Russian and alien power suits jockeyed for position. Darcy's radar signalled that she had entered ideal range for her gauss cannon. She kept watch, waiting for an alien to break away long enough to not risk hitting any of the Russians. One alien didn't count on one of the Russians, Yulya according to her IFF beacon, performing a power dive towards the moon's cratered surface. Darcy lined up her shot, waited for her rifle's crosshair to appear over the alien power suit's head. She fired.
Atmosphere vented out of the alien suit. Its pilot twisted away from the fight. The suit's thrusters flared. Over the radio, Victoria yelled, "Great shot, McGee!"
On the radar, Yulya pulled her suit out of its dive. She rolled over on to her back and fired a burst at the fleeing alien. "Whoever that was, thank you," she transmitted.
"Bear One, this is Beaver One," Darcy replied. "You're quite welcome."
"McGee, neutrino surge," Victoria called. "Usual area, one one seven metres away. I can't pinpoint it any closer."
Darcy checked her radar screen. The fleeing alien was close to the source of the surge. "All pilots, this is Beaver One. Neutrino surge. Repeat, neutrino surge."
"This is Tiger Three. Surge confirmed."
"Bear Flight, Beaver Flight, this Bear One. Converge on the source." Yulya's thrusters kicked in, accelerating her after the fleeing alien.
"Beaver Flight, this is McGee. Form up!" Darcy opened her throttle.
Outside, Darcy saw Bear Flight fall in line behind their leader. Behind her, Beaver Flight spread out, their vectors parallel to her own. The distance to the neutrino source fell rapidly. The wounded alien suit reached the source, then vanished. Darcy glanced at her radar scope; there was no sign of the alien suit. The missile lock alarm blared. "Evasives!" she ordered, then fired her right side's thrusters. She grunted in pain as her harness dug into her shoulders on top of the fading bruises. On her radar, the missile's icon flashed as it got closer, reminding her of the danger. Darcy spun her suit to face the onrushing missile. She raised her gauss cannon, flicking it to burst fire. The missile exploded, blinding her.
"Got it!" Dominique yelled.
"McGee, get your ass out of there!" Renée ordered. "Incoming!"
Darcy blinked, getting the white spots out of her vision. She checked her radar. Several alien suits, possibly all, were bearing down in her direction. Darcy oriented her suit away from the moon and triggered her thrusters. Bright red lasers criss crossed below her. She brought up her cannon and let off a quick burst. One of the alien suits zigzagged to avoid the shots.
"All flights, this is Darkside Command." Major di Carlo's voice was steady. "All pilots, pull back. Repeat, pull back. Give them space to get out."
Several pilots began manoeuvring out of the way before di Carlo finished speaking. Darcy maintained her course, keeping her rifle trained on the oncoming aliens. Yulya's suit, though, drifted into their path. "Bear One, this is Beaver One. That's not going to be a safe spot."
"Bear One, this is Roo One. What the hell are you doing?"
Darcy's hand hovered over her thruster control. "Bear One, respond." She gave the Russian several seconds to answer. "Bear Flight, this is Beaver One. Someone talk to me."
"Beaver One, this is Bear Four." The woman's accent was strong, laced with worry. "She's not answering. She won't."
"Beaver Flight, cover me!" Darcy fired her thrusters, opening them full. She dove down towards Yulya's suit. Letting go of her gauss cannon, she opened her suit's arms wide. Her radar showed the aliens closing fast. Lasers lit the space between her and the moon in neon reds. Darcy ignored the light show, shoved everything to the back of her mind except her one task.
Yulya's suit loomed large in front of Darcy. As she passed, she wrapped her suit's arms around the Russian's waist. Yulya cursed, them demanded to be let go. Darcy ignored her, ignored the hisses coming from inside her suit as lasers hit her. The hull breach light came on. An emergency oxygen mask dropped into Darcy's vision.
The alien blips disappeared one by one as they passed over Darcy. With her attention no longer focused on Yulya, Darcy grabbed the mask and strapped it over her nose and mouth. She took a long, deep breath, then another. A dizziness she never realized she had faded. Over the radio, she heard Dominique asking, "McGee, are you there? McGee?"
"Dom, I'm here. Losing air pressure. How does it look from outside?"
"Bad enough. You better get back to base."
Darcy checked on the aliens' progress. The parade of blips continued to disappear. "Not yet."
"Beaver One, this is Roo One," Baz said. "Really, dear, go back. We've got things handled here. Take Cranky with you. We've been given the all clear."
"Affirmative, Roo One. Thanks, Kylie." Darcy feathered her thrusters, adjusting her course to go back to Darkside One. Yulya's suit offered no resistance, nor did it assist in the return. "Beaver Flight, I'll see you back home. Beaver One, out."
With the added mass of Yulya's suit and the damage to her own, Darcy did what she could to not tax her suit's systems. The thrusters remained low, enough to offset the moon's gravity without risking straining the suit to destruction. Darcy kept an ear on the command channel, listening to the chatter from the other pilots. On her radar, Bear Flight followed her.
"Everyone, neutrino surge!" Victoria called. "It's coming from . . . no. Dom, Shrieker, can you verify that?"
"Verifying," Dom said. "I'm not picking anything up."
"Me, neither," Violet, the Austrailian known as Shrieker said. "Geek, can you give us a bearing?"
"Hang on," Victoria said. "Right now, I'm looking right at it. Um, zero zero zero, mark zero? Moving in for a closer look."
"Geek, no," Darcy warned.
"McGee, this may be my best chance to find out more about what's happening."
"Geek, listen to her for once," Renée said. "Get back!"
"Approaching the event horizon," Victoria said. "Someone make sure my telemetry is recorded. I want to analyse this when I get back."
"Geek, damnit, stop!" Darcy kept her hold on Yulya's suit. "Geek!"
"Calm down, McGee. I know what I'm doing. I should be able to pop inside the event horizon and get back with full thrusters."
"Dom, Shrieker, monitor her progress."
"On it." On Darcy's radar, Dominique's suit moved to get a proper view of Victoria's progress. Violet's suit joined her a few metres behind. "I'm picking up the neutrinos."
"Confirmed," Violet said.
"I'm seeing the edge of the event horizon," Victoria reported. "It's a thin red circle, must be a high energy field. Distance, zero two five metres. Slowing down. Neutrino surge increasing. Could be part of the energy field that opened the event horizon. Cutting thrusters. Distance now zero one zero metres and closing." Victoria's transmission began cutting in and out. "Still can't see anything past the event horizon. The circle is changing colour, shifting to orange. Crossing the event horizon now." The transmission cut out completely.
Darcy looked on in horror as Victoria's blip disappeared from the radar screen. "Geek, report!" She gave Victoria a few seconds to answer. "Geek, answer me! Tori!"
"Damnit, Tori, get back here!" Renée called. "McGee, I'm going after her."
"Negative, Princess. Do not go in!"
"But nothing. All flights, return to base. Repeat, all flights, return to base. Now!"
"Wait," Dominique said. "Incoming!"
Darcy's radar scope lit up. She recognized the signal as a black box's screamer. "Dom, get that! It's probably from Geek."
"I have it."
"Neutrino surge is gone," Violet said. "I'm sorry, McGee. The gateway's closed."
Darcy's stomach fell. "All flights, let's go home."
Darcy's suit limped into the hangar. With the hull damage done to it, the ground crew repressurized the bay to let her out. Yulya stormed out of her suit, following Darcy to the airlock to the ready room. Inside, she glared at the Canadian. "I did not need your help."
Darcy returned the glower. "No, you just wanted to play cowgirl with every damned alien passing through you."
"You have no idea what I was doing."
The airlock cycled open to the ready room. "You're right, I had no idea what fool idea was going through your head. Apparently, they have lasers that can cut through our suits. Is that what you wanted to find out?"
Yulya pushed past Darcy to enter the ready room. "I saw these things kill my comrades. You don't know what they can do."
"Neither do you!" Darcy followed Yulya out of the airlock. "And, in case you didn't notice, I just lost one of my pilots!"
"You didn't discipline her enough before you got here." The fans roared as they depressurized the hangar.
Darcy grabbed Yulya's shoulder and spun her around. "Tori was a good pilot, a great scientist, and a friend. If you're going to talk smack about her, do it to my face."
Yulya stared into Darcy's eyes; the Canadian never blinked. "Let go of me."
Darcy maintained her grip for several long moments before releasing Yulya. "You have a problem with any of my pilots, you come to me and you come to me with a civilized tone."
"Next time, do not interfere with me or my suit." Yulya turned on her heel and left the ready room.
Darcy collapsed into a chair. She watched out the window as the rest of the pilots returned to the hangar. She counted the Canadian suits as they returned. Dominique's oversized suit towered over Renée's and even the suits from the other nations. The air returned to the hangar bay. The pilots filed out of their suits and trudged to the ready room's airlock. Darcy stood up as Renée and Dominique entered. Dominique pulled Darcy into a hug. Renée joined in.
"Thanks," Darcy said.
"Tori's headstrong," Renée said. "She gets an idea and she won't let it go."
"It's not your fault, Darcy," Dominique added.
Darcy sighed. "I know. Not my fault. Not anyone's fault. Hell, it's not even Tori's fault. We needed to know what we're dealing with."
"The aliens returned the other woman," Dominique said. "Tori'll will come back."
"She'll annoy them to the point where they'll want to return her and then surrender to us." Renée forced a smile. "Then we can threaten them with her if they ever think of coming back."
Darcy laughed. "I can see that happening." She disengaged from the hug. "Go change and rest up. I'll deal with the reports and check with Major di Carlo on what we're doing for our patrol."
The debriefing with Major di Carlo took over an hour as she asked for more and more details about the skirmish. Darcy answered the questions as best she could, with doubt growing in the back of her mind. The Major avoided questioning her on Victoria's disappearance, sidestepping any paths that led towards the loss. Darcy, in part, was thankful for that; she still was going through the incident in her head, replaying it, trying to figure out if there was something she should've done beyond just giving out ignored orders. With her own suit cosplaying as Swiss cheese, she couldn't have done anything physical again, not like what she did with Yulya. The matter with the Russian flight commander also bothered her. No one seemed to want to talk to her about it, either. Two worries, both weighing heavily on Darcy's mind.
After the debriefing, Darcy wandered through the corridors. She avoided her shared quarters; she wanted to avoid seeing Victoria's bunk right away. Darcy didn't want to acknowledge that the brash brunette was truly missing. Her own report would list Victoria as Missing In Action. If the lunar scientist had returned, then Victoria could, too. It was just a matter of time.
Darcy's wanderings led her to the gym. She poked her head inside. Several women performed yoga in one corner, while another had Dominique in a pick-up one-on-one game with an Indian nurse. Darcy left before she could be seen. At this point, she needed to handle the loss by herself before she could be of any use to Dominique and Renée.
Continuing her aimless tour of Darkside One, Darcy returned to the hangar. She walked through the pilot's briefing room and the ready room out to the bay itself. Her power suit was laid out on the floor, technicians around it trying to figure out if it would ever be usable again. One of the techs looked up and saw her. She jogged over to greet Darcy.
Darcy checked the woman's arm for her rank. "Hello, Ensign," she said, recognizing the American's rank and service branch.
"I was hoping you'd come down," the Ensign said. She held out her hand. "Ensign Olivia Crowne, United States Navy."
"Lieutenant Darcy Kincaid, Canadian Armed Forces, Air Command."
Olivia glanced back at the damaged power suit. "I don't think it's going to fly again, Lieutenant. The right leg is barely attached. I have no idea how you managed to walk in. The life support is shot, so to speak. I don't think we can fix it up here. Nissan might, back at the factory, assuming the internal skeleton is mostly intact."
"Is there anything that still works on it?"
"Radar and lidar are still good. Three quarters of the thruster nozzles are working, though a third of those need minor repairs. The feet are in good condition." Olivia shrugged. "We're still going through the electronics and internal systems to salvage what we can. Right now, your suit is best used as parts."
"I see." Darcy shrugged. "Carry on. Don't let me keep you. If you need me, I can be reached or paged."
"Thanks, Lieutenant." Olivia saluted Darcy, who returned the gesture, then ran back to her work.
Darcy resumed her meanderings, leaving the hangar. She passed the mess hall and lounge, avoiding going in. She didn't want to intrude on anyone, nor did she want anyone to intrude on her own thoughts. The hard part was keeping to herself. The rest of the base maintained its routine. Life went on, despite the loss of a pilot. But a sombre air fell upon Darkside One. People passing Darcy acknowledged her, but didn't stop to talk. Sounds were muted.
Without realizing what she had done, Darcy found herself at the base's offices. She saw Major di Carlo's at the end of the corridor. Before she could turn to leave, Darcy heard her name being called by Lieutenant Finnigan, the Major's aide. Darcy stopped. "Yes?"
"Oh, good," Lieutenant Finnigan said as she dashed out the door. "Major di Carlo has been looking for you. She's inside."
Darcy followed the aide into the Major's office. Di Carlo motioned for Darcy to take a seat. "I am sorry about your loss, Lieutenant," the Major began as Darcy sat down. "However, I think you should hear this. It's the recording from your pilot's black box. Lieutenant Grieg managed to send us a ton of useful intelligence. I will be adding my commendations to her records."
"Thank you, Major," Darcy said.
Di Carlo tapped at her datatab. Victoria's voice came over the tablet's speaker. "I'm seeing the edge of the event horizon. It's a thin red circle, must be a high energy field. Distance, zero two five metres. Slowing down. Neutrino surge increasing. Could be part of the energy field that opened the event horizon. Cutting thrusters. Distance now zero one zero metres and closing. Still can't see anything past the event horizon. The circle is changing colour, shifting to orange. Crossing the event horizon now." Victoria gasped. "The stars just became red blurs. I might be in a wormhole. The neutrino detector is putting on a lovely light show. Trying to reverse thrusters now. Doesn't seem to be working. Could be an artifact of whatever I'm in. One way only." Victoria gasped. "Okay, roller coaster time here. Probably the best I've been on. Stars returning to normal, but I couldn't tell you which ones they are." The playback crackled. "I'm back in, well, normal space for a lack of a better word. I think I'm the first human to break the light barrier! Woo! And, oh, crap. There's the mothership. Reversing thrusters. Mothership is launching. Just in case, I'm ejecting my black box. The event horizon's still open. Everyone back home, I love you all and Darcy, don't be angry with me or yourself. Just think of all the information I just gave you. Ejecting black box n--" The playback ended.
Major di Carlo tapped her tablet. "I have people already going over the data Lieutenant Grieg sent back. I hate to ask this of your flight, but we need to keep up our patrols. The number of alien vessels in that scan show a possible build up to an full invasion. With your suit out for repairs and Lieutenant Grieg missing, I'll add your remaining two pilots to other flights to bolster their numbers."
"I understand. I'll let them know, Major."
"Thank you. Dismissed."
"Is there anyone there?"
"Why are you here?"
"Your question is irrelevant."
"Are you playing dumb?"