The Road Kings broke off the pursuit of the Panda scouts and returned once they fell too far behind for their fire to reach Mo, and proceeded to mop up the remaining fighters. But the scouts still followed until their last parasite fighter died. Once that happened, they turned away and disappeared.
For nearly a half hour we stayed frosty, watching for their possible return, but it never came and at last, I moved us from battle stations back to battle warning.
“Those fighters saw a Goblin all alone and thought they had an easy kill,” Martins commented once we could relax. “Poor bastards didn’t expect a Gob with teeth as sharp as Mo’s.”
My reply was more of a grunt than a word.
“What was with that flying, Mo?” Delaney the Luna Moth pilot teased. “You pioneering new techniques?”
“Portside trim went to 100 percent on me, Rabbit,” I answered. “I could only steer by spinning, until we killed the secondary jet. I’m having to yaw pretty hard to starboard now for control right now.”
She let out a low “Woah,” in response to that.
“I need to get back to sails and tails so I can straighten out,” I noted, dropping a hint.
Martins answered, “Understood, Mo. We’ll fan out to give you room.”
The Road Kings pushed away, back out to the ten kilometer spread they had been maintaining for most of our flight.
Flying Mo at interstellar speeds in sideslip was serious work. I practically collapsed into a puddle of fatigue when the Bosun’s Mate finally got us back under sail.
I went to the galley once it was Kirkwood’s shift at the controls, fully expecting to Red to be there, waiting to talk.
As I encountered members of the crew, I received a little ribbing from them about my flying– they all heard the intercom traffic so they knew the reasons for the wild maneuvering, but a little thing like the facts never stopped a crew from ribbing the guy driving– and I asked about injuries so I could hear confirmation that the banging around hadn’t produced any. I reminded them to pass the word to report any injury and get treatment even if they thought it was minor, then arrived at my destination to grab a foil packet of standard issue ‘bug juice’ beverage and one of the zero-gee energy bars that resemble those ‘calorie mate’ things you see in Anime. ESDF Haute Cuisine at its finest.
Red was there, but she was off in a corner with Farley. She didn’t even look entirely my direction, although I did see the scowl on her face. I can’t describe it precisely, but it was how she was specifically not looking at me that stopped me from talking to her.
I just collected my lunch and headed to my quarters, although I dropped a note to her through my nerveware to come see me. Red’s nerveware pathways had never grown wide enough to manage Meta-Space piloting or synthetic voice, which is why she never qualified to be a Youth Aviator, but she’s able to send and receive text just fine.
Normally she would send a confirmation. I got crickets this time.
I would have tried to catch a little sleep, but you can’t sleep coming straight out of a firefight. It doesn’t matter how tired you are. The second you begin fading off, you begin imagining alarms and plots of bandits on your screens. So I gave up and went to keep Kirkwood company in the control room.
I heard Red’s distinctive voice as soon as I reached the entrance.
“Colin says he’s seen it before. A cargo driver gets a full crew, and he suddenly thinks he’s hot stuff!”
“Red, even if he…” Kirkwood began, then cut off as she saw me appear around the corner. Red turned to check what the XO’s eyes had fixed on, then pressed her lips together and looked away when she saw me.
“So, now I know why you stopped trusting me,” I commented as I stopped there. Didn’t have much choice; Red was in the observer seat, so it would be closer quarters than I wanted, if I were to go farther in.
Not ‘sitting’ in the seat, mind you. You don’t ‘sit’ in zero gee. But when the ship is at battle warning, you get into the habit of belting in if acceleration couches are available.
“What are you talking about, I stopped trusting you?” Red demanded.
It wasn’t the first time she got her temper up with me. I learned long ago to not try to equal her in volume. I simply stated, “My escorts were drawn off, I was facing five fighters, I had three incoming missiles and my steering had suddenly gone to hell. I called for an emergency shutdown of the jet causing the issue. Red, on any mission we have flown together up until this one, you would have trusted my judgment and done it instantly. You would have understood that I didn’t have time to send flowers and plead my case, I needed it shut down now. And you would definitely asked why later. But not on this trip. Why? Now, I know it’s because ‘Colin’ says I’ve gotten full of myself.”
“By doing an emergency shut down, you can’t get it started again without a ground maintenance! Now you have to fly it this way all the way to the target and back home!”
“I don’t want it, if it’s at 100 percent! It’s burning up too much propellant! And countering it is using up even more, because I have to either run the starboard side up to 100 percent to match it or use attitude jets! Think about how much mass either of those options would cost, here in Meta-Space!”
I realized I was ramping up volume, and forced myself back down. She was still glaring at me. She spat out, “If I ask if you can fly it like this, you’re just gonna say ‘watch me’, aren’t you?”
“Damned right I will!” I retorted. “And I will fly it! I’ll fly it all the way there and I’ll fly it all the way back and I will absolutely land it at Gulf Base Three that way if I have to! If you can keep it from coming apart on me, Red, I can land any damn thing you give me! And until this trip, you’d have agreed with me! You’d have backed me up, Red! So, what happened to you?!”
Her lips pressed together and she looked away, then released her belt and pushed out of the seat, handing her way past me, toward the corridor.
“I sent you a message,” I stated as she went.
“I saw it,” she answered, still cross. “You wanted to bitch at me, right?”
“I wanted to talk to you about how to trim the main skirt,” I answered. It was the truth, too. Although I’ll admit I probably would have bitched, too. “We need to gimbal the thrust.”
“Will ten degrees to starboard be okay?” she asked, not looking back and continuing to leave.
“Too much. I did a thrust sim and it came out optimal with our current load at around seven degrees. Re-sim it and tighten my numbers up, please.”
“Right,” she said, as her feet disappeared from the entrance.
I hauled myself the rest of the way to the observer seat and belted myself in, then heaved a sigh.
“Did you two recently break up or something?” Kirkwood asked.