Kirkwood eased the Mo out of its parking orbit on secondary thrusters, with Lastunen running the jets while Lundgren sat at the field engineer station. While they did so, I sat in the left hand seat of Martins’ Luna Moth, fighting down anxiety as I watched the second string driving my baby away.
I had given her a fully plotted flight plan to work from; she only had to handle any unexpected details that came up. With the alignments as they were and most of the fighting power of both sides now currently sucked away into the still-raging outer system maelstrom, unexpected details were unlikely. The single planet that orbited between Sebka and A[hika was on the opposite side of the star, where it couldn’t threaten her at the moment, and we were departing Sebka A while the Enemy’s orbit was opposite us. She had an open path all the way to A[hika C.
It still made me nervous as hell.
While Martins shepherded her squadron into escort formation, I flipped through the menus, reacquainting myself with the weapons systems and flight controls. Two years of rust coated my Banshee skills, although there was some resemblance between them and the cockpit controls for Mo’s weapon systems prior to the refit. But I was finding most of it familiar. I had only been in a Banshee cockpit for three months, although they had been three nasty, harrowing months during the worst summer vacation of my life, so I was surprised to see I still remembered most of it. I guess fear really locks the memories in.
The Luna Moth’s flight controls were a different matter. The Banshee I flew was a fat, triple-finned dart with one big triangular-nozzle jet in back, and transverse thrusters in a triangular arrangement: belly, top and to port, and top and to starboard. A typical Seseem design, where everything came either individually or in multiples of three. Goes with their three tarantula-like legs, I guess. They have trios of attitude jets in the three big tailfins, and a similar cluster in the nose.
The Luna Moth is a Gr’ts’ck design. Some people say it looks like a flattened mushroom cap deformed into a triangle. Others compare it to a ‘tricorne’ hat. It has two big jets in the back, two smaller ones pointing downward, and attitude thrusters sticking every which way. In the atmosphere, it flies a lot more like a Human airplane than like a Banshee, and it lands like one too. It makes more sense to Humans, but wow does that change how the controls work.
I knew how to fly it. I’ve flown them in simulator. But I prayed that nothing happened to Martins. I seriously didn’t want to make my maiden flight of a Moth while in the middle of a combat zone.
Kirkwood pushed Mo into Meta-space in textbook fashion. While watching her fly– it made good practice for getting used to the scopes– I came to a conclusion.
“I need to put her into a simulator back home and teach her how to do this,” I said out loud.
Martins chuckled. “Yeah. She’s taking far too long to get underway.”
“It’s because she’s flying by the numbers. I think I could track her without watching, just by reading it out of the flight manual.”
“Did Poppy fly BHs?” Martins wondered.
What she meant was, ‘Was Kirkwood a bomber pilot?’. Goblin bombers get a ‘BH’ designator (Bomber, Heavy) instead of Mo’s ‘TV’ (Transport, Versatile).
“Yeah. Kirkwood came up in front line patrol squadrons. She captained a Buffalo for a little while before copiloting a Goblin D2.”
“Those guys always fly textbook to stay in formation.”
I was getting the feeling, not just from her wide knowledge but also from the course we were about to fly, that Martins had done a lot more than just fly Luna Moths. Just like my mom. I would have to stay in touch with her. Those done-everything types are great sources of information.
Martins opened up her squadron frequency. “Two-Five-Four Leader to Two-Five-Four-Group. Sending sync clock for new course.”
“Two, Aye aye”
“Two-Five-Four-Three, Got it”
“Would you people pick one format and use it, already?” I griped out loud this time. I wasn’t on the air, of course, but Martins laughed.
As she turned her craft away from the Mo to shape a trajectory toward Sebka B, she noted, “They would all have to do it like Delaney, then, because she will never give up her ‘Rabbit, Roger’.”
It finally registered on me and I snorted. “It’s a joke, isn’t it?”
“Pretty obvious one, Captain,” she noted. “It’s her revenge for being stuck with the call sign ‘Rabbit’.”
I gave a nod. “I should have come up with something like that. I know how she feels.”
“Why?” she asked with a perplexed tone. “You’re one of the lucky ones with a cool sign.”
I shook my head and said, “Not once you hear how I got it.”
“It’s not your flying?” Red asked, to my surprise. I could understand why someone would think that, but had I actually not ever told Red how I ended up being called ‘Psycho’?
With an embarrassed grin, I said, “It was an incident in the showers, while I was doing ground school. By the the time I got my wings, I was already stuck with it. And that’s all the information you’ll get out of me.”
Martins looked across at me, looking a bit incredulous. Then she tipped her head back and let out a belly laugh.
I noticed a symbol on my comm interface. “Incoming call on Battle Group Eighteen Control frequency.”
“Foxtrot-Two-Five-Four to One-Eight Control,” Martins said. “Go ahead.”
“Foxtrot-Two-Five-Four, you have deviated from your lead’s flight path. Please explain.”
“Roger, Control. Two-Five-Four is making a reconnaissance-in-force of the downing site of the lander belonging to TV-803 Morris Higgins, pursuant to her captain’s request.”
After a long pause, the controller asked, “Please repeat, Two-Five-Four. You are making a what?“
“A reconnaissance-in-force. You can find the term in your comm glossary, Control.”
Martins’ eyes were sparkling and she had big grin on her face. I assumed the grin was because we don’t use the phrase ‘reconnaissance-in-force’ in the Aviation Corps. It’s land warfare terminology
A very long time later, a new voice came on. Specifically, the Sky Boss on the Alexander. “Tapper, explain yourself please.”
“To whom?” she asked innocently.
“You know goddamn good and well that this is Jerr…” he bit his words off, then amended, “This is Commander Jurgen Dalca, 18th Carrier Wing.”
“Hi, Jerry. I’m just running a quick errand for the ship I’m escorting. Don’t mind it.”
“What the hell do you mean, a ‘reconnaissance-in-force’?”
She explained with a patient tone. “It’s in the approved ESDF communications glossary, Jerry. You should read it.”
“Sandra, you’re flying a patrol craft, not an infantry company!”
“And the captain wants me to bring back some better intel for his command. He wants his people back, Jerry.”
I was getting the impression from her attitude, Martins had a history with this guy. She was clearly enjoying messing with him. I was curious, but decided I shouldn’t ask.
“Leave it and return to your escort charge! You aren’t authorized for Sebka B airspace!”
“Jerry, the Morris Higgins is a ship underway in interplanetary space and properly proceeding on the journey she has orders for. I’m her escort leader and I am traveling in convoy with her commander. And, with all due respect, Commander Dalca, neither Mo nor the Road Kings are part of your command. An independent command is its own authority.”
A short time later, we heard the Sky Boss again. “Battle Group One-Eight Command to Tango-Victor-Eight-Oh-Three Morris Higgins.“
Kirkwood had probably been monitoring. Her crisp British tones responded immediately. “This is Eight-Oh-Three, go ahead One-Eight.”
“Put your captain on.”
I had given Kirkwood very strict orders concerning this contingency.
“The captain specifically ordered that he is not to be disturbed during his rest period. He has not had any decent sleep during the emergency and he is quite fatigued.”
All of the above was true, since it was indeed currently Kirkwood’s shift. She never said I wasn’t on board.
“Put him on now!” Dalca ordered.
I suspected my XO wanted to crumble, because there was a long pause. I had asked Letour to give her moral support at this point if we reached it, and the senior CPO was probably pep-talking her off the air at that moment.
Finally Kirkwood came back on. “Commander Sir… my ship is currently under way, and my captain gave me very specific orders. Are you issuing a command to me to disobey my captain’s explicit orders while underway at space? I need your answer for the record, Sir.”
“That’s my Poppy,” Martins said with approval. Not over the air, of course.
The Sky Boss gave up at that point. Kirkwood had all but underlined and highlighted the specific ESDF regulations to him in her choice of wording. Half of it had been quoted from the one about ‘incitement to mutiny’.
There were no more communications from him after that.