I stared at my reflection in the observation port. My disgruntled reflection stared back.
“I hate this,” I told him. “This absolutely, totally, utterly sucks.”
In the launch bay below me, Mo waited, the welds barely cool on her various renovations. Yard personnel scrambled around the floor below, grabbing up their tools and equipment, readying the bay for launch. She looked in shock after all the things the yard had done to her.
“Sorry, girl,” I whispered. “They didn’t ask my permission.”
“Yo, Cap!” Red’s voice called up through the stairwell. “You coming along on this trip or what?”
I sighed and shouldered my duffle bag. As always, I had loaded it pretty heavy for the mission. I was wearing my flight gear, but I had changes of fatigues and socks and stuff, plus books, laptop, games, tablet, noise-isolation headphones… hey, it can get boring on long flights, you know?
Mo would fly twenty four people this mission. Farley had a gunner’s mate under him, to operate the lander’s weapons, and the PTO had a squad of seven Surface Corps infantry. As for the rest…
The old Mo had been equipped with automated point defense and a simple fire control system that Red would operate during a fight, plus a missile rack that either one of us could operate. The new Mo had much bigger and nastier teeth, weapons that allowed it to head into purposeful combat rather than running like hell with a limited battery for defense. The new equipment required dedicated hands to operate it.
In, other words, I had what you could only call a crew.
I had been in fire-fights many times before, my big Gob clumsily dodging shipping raiders, sometimes with escort fighters dancing around me like little guardian angels. It was simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, the ultimate ‘extreme sport’. And at the end of those I would feel like I’d just snow-boarded Mount Everest. We always had a few passengers (which I believe was no coincidence, since otherwise they’d be sending a couple unsupervised minors of opposite gender alone into space, right?) so it had always been more than just our two lives at stake.
But this was a whole new level of responsibility.
Even if I had always been the captain, Red and I felt more like a partnership. Red didn’t follow my orders, she just did what Red does while I did what I do. Now, I wouldn’t just be responsible for other people’s lives, I would be responsible for their actions.
During the trudge down the stairs, I did my best to purge my anxieties and shakes and don the image of the steely-eyed space captain that would match my uniform. It didn’t feel much like it was working when I passed through the airlock doors of the bay entrance. My new Fire Control Officer, Senior CPO Letour, stood near the brow, giving directions to a team of yard grunts wrestling a huge crate toward the ship.
She spotted me, turned and yelled into the ground hatch, “Hold the elevator! Captain’s coming.”
I grew embarrassed at the thought of some adult being told to wait for me to get there and quickened my pace. Letour snapped something to the guys with the box and they lowered it. By the time I had reached them, they’d dropped the sling straps, turned, straightened and saluted, along with Letour.
My face felt bright red as I returned the salute. All of them were adults, in significantly older than me. I was entering my own ship, yet I had never before felt so much out of my element.
For years, Mo’s brow had been trapped on the other side of the malfunctioning hatch. The yard had finally repaired it, as part of the renovations. For the first time since I took command of her, I could board my ship the way all other Goblin drivers did, rather than climbing a gantry or a rope ladder up to the secondary airlock. The strangeness of it just reinforced the feeling I was somewhere I didn’t belong.
Both hatches of the lock stood open for ground loading. I hurried through the doors and squeezed into the cargo lift between another huge crate and the cage wall. Once I was in, PO2C Raulo Quintana allowed the drop door he’d been holding up to finish its descent, then saluted me as I lowered my duffle to the floor. The lift began traveling forward (which means ‘up’ when we’re on the ground, because ‘forward’ is the direction that the ship travels.)
I know I’m beating this to death, but I really was freaking over people twice my age saluting me. Ratings of all ages had saluted me groundside from the day I made Aviator, but I guess I didn’t encounter them as often and those didn’t mean the same to me as salutes from my own crew. I returned it, forced my memory to cough up Quintana’s job on my ship (weapon technician) and lamely guessed of the crates, “Gun parts?”
“Warheads, Capitán,” the petty officer replied crisply.
I hope I didn’t turn too pale in front of him.
# # #
People new to Goblins are often surprised to discover the pilot doesn’t face the direction the ship is traveling when he looks out the window. On the ground, Forward and Aft are up and down, the four horizontal directions are Starboard, Port, Bottom and Top, with Bottom traditionally facing South upon landing. The pilot sits looking straight out the Top direction. I do face ‘Forward’ when I rotate my couch and console back for higher gees, but that puts the bubble below my feet, not over my head. Which makes me wonder why they don’t put the control room on the Bottom side. To people who imagine spaceships like airplanes, the arrangement makes no sense.
Crewman Liu, my tail-gunner, commed from her turret right after the last red light on my launch readiness board went out, confirming the same thing that the light had just told me. “Brow fully retracted and hatches closed, sir.”
“Raising climate control to initial travel pressure,” Red reported. I felt my ears plug and worked my jaw to clear them.
“We’re tight, Cap,” she added after confirming the air pressure was holding. We would gradually drop it over the first hour of the trip to about one thousand millibars, same as inside GB3. The initial pressure was to confirm that we had no leaks or slow down any that happened once the bay flooded.
My Goblin could fly now. Or to be more precise, she could swim. Red and I still had lots of work to do to get her above the water where she could actually fly, but the rest of the crew had completed their jobs.
I told Red, two years previous to this, “If you’ll promise to keep this old tub from falling apart, I’ll promise to keep you alive.”
She laughed and shook my hand while saying something like, “It’s a deal.”
I’m sure to her, it was just a light-hearted quip. That’s because I didn’t tell her the reason.
The fact is, when I faced her the first time and realized that the brass had put this girl’s life in my sixteen-year-old hands, it hit me that I had no choice but to keep her and anyone else on my ship alive. That would be my number one goal, from then on, for as long as she flew with me.
It was for that reason that I now had to do one last thing. One last ritual I always did before lift-off. You can call it a superstition or a habit or whatever you want, but I had to do it.
Teenager Cody Resnick from Berenice, Texas drew in a deep breath. It was time for him to get off the ship and stay on the ground. Captain Cody Resnick, Senior Aviator, ESDF Aviation Corps let that breath out and opened the comm channel to flight control.
“This is Tango-Victor-Eight-Oh-Three, Morris Higgins to Control. Request you flood bay and open doors for departure.”