Re-entry on a space fighter is not the spectacular fireball that you might have seen with NASA stuff. The main reason is, we can do a much harder retro burn, which slows us down a lot more from orbital velocity before we hit the atmosphere.
Normally, I mean. We weren’t doing it normally this time. We did not launch at the optimal time for where we wanted to go to on Sebka B, so Martins plotted a weird looping path that ran us up into Sebka B translunar space and then dropped us straight back, flying down on our jets into the night side of the world five hundred kilometers away from Farley’s LZ. Right into the middle of Enemy airspace.
That was so that we didn’t freak out anyone on our side. We were going to become a quartet of falling stars that could be seen for hundreds of kilometers. What we were about to do was the very definition of freaking out the Enemy, but we were going to be doing that, anyway.
What made it possible was that our course as we approached Sebka B was heading straight into the hyperlight wind. We could brake using both jets and sails. We couldn’t compensate because of Joss– the compensation matrix doesn’t work on Zindavoor or their mannequins– but she was strong, and just like all pilots, Red had received the alien physical enhancements. We pilots can manage short term gees above 20 and sustained to 10. Before we left, I asked Joss whether her manniquin and her real body inside it could deal with the same numbers. She just stared at me and stated, “It is not a problem.”
I had the distinct impression it was a stupid question. I need to study up on Zindavoors and their mannequins, I guess.
Because we wanted to appear as low as possible over Enemy territory, our generators were screaming in their effort to hold us back from Normal Space until the very last second. We came out of Meta-space with our ears ringing.
Velocity in Meta-space doesn’t hold in normal space. It translates down to a much lower speed. But even with that lower speed we were still going hideously fast, so instead of a standard nose-first re-entry like the Space Shuttle used to do, we were entering the atmosphere backwards, with jets still firing all the way to add to the force from the air resistance. It added up to a pretty intense gee force. I saw the meter spike to sixteen for a couple seconds.
But we came through and spun into the proper nose-first attitude in one piece. It was only a matter of minutes before we were cruising at slightly above five thousand meters.
“Sharktooth to Tapper. Ready to drop.”
We weren’t on a bombing run. The ‘munitions’ he was ready to drop consisted of one PTO fully-equipped for recon.
“Road Kings will follow. Send your sync and drop as you are ready,” Martins answered.
Sharktooth’s Moth was on my side. I saw the gull-wing hatch rise, then the squadron nosed straight up and cut their jets to minimal thrust to lose airspeed.
When they neared stall, they turned onto their backs and Joss dropped out, beginning her HALO jump. After she was far enough down for safety, they rolled upright and opened their throttles again. It was such a slick move, I had to ask about it.
“Standard maneuver for a special operations insert, captain. We’ve done it before, and so has Joss.”
“Is that something you guys do often? Looks like you have the move down cold.”
“Yup. If you fly Long Range Patrol, you do lots of stuff like that. Inserts and retrievals are a regular job.”
“Interested in coming over to Long Range Patrol?”
I laughed. “The ESDF already pegged me as a bus driver. They’ll never let me.”
“Hm. Yeah, they may not want to waste you on a Moth. But you’ll be driving the big busses some day, instead, not the Goblins.”
I snorted. “I’m sure the best command I can hope for is a mighty fleet of couriers, Ma’am.”
“Although that wouldn’t be a bad job for you either, I have my doubts. From what I’ve seen so far, you’re a born warrior. I’ll wager they have a cruiser in the construction plan already picked out for you to command, eight or so years down the road. You have flashy cruiser captain written all over you.”
“Hah.” I shook my head, a wry smile on my face. As if.
I’ve heard it all before. Older officers at the base like to coax me into believing I’m on the mandatory list because the brass wants me in a big battle wagon. But I’ve always had a different theory about why I was pulled from my old interceptor squadron.
They noticed how scared I was.
Yes, I was racking up big numbers while flying Banshees. I had ten kills before I made Aviator, and twelve more before they pulled me out of my old squadron. But I was doing it on sheer terror, with my mind working at lightning speed because I was certain I would be dead any second if I didn’t get the other guy first. The adrenalin rush was great, but I wasn’t a thrill addict. I was just terrified.
They realized it, and pulled me out of there, stuck me into Dragons for a bit, then kicked me upstairs into Goblins. That’s my theory. I’ll get Avary’s job when he’s ready for promotion, and then I’ll follow him up the ladder.
Martins sighed and shook her head at my disbelief. Then she leaned her head back to address the girl behind her. “What do you think, young lady?”
“Huh?” Red turned her head our way, blinking some.
“About what we were just talking about?”
“Oh… um. Sorry. I wasn’t listening.”
Martins grew a slight frown, shooting me a sidelong look of concern, then shook her head. She used a private channel to text, Is that girl alright?
The purpose of the light banter that air crews use on missions is to relieve the nerves everyone is feeling. We don’t actually take flying into harm’s way lightly. So when someone starts clamming up, it might mean they’re freezing up, and the rest get concerned for them.
But I was pretty sure I understood Red’s worries at that moment, so I just shrugged and texted back, She’s probably just worrying about Farley. Let her be.
# # #
We had to wait after dropping Joss. HALO means jumping from (H)igh (A)ltitude but waiting to get (L)ow before (O)pening one’s parachute. Five thousand meters at 0.83 Earth gravities is a long, long fall, so we had time to kill.
But we weren’t loafing around while waiting for her to scout. We couldn’t let her take all the heat. We went on our own hunting expedition. We were looking for everything: surface-to-air weaponry, atmospheric craft, even Enemy ground troops or vehicles. The thing is, they weren’t easy to find.
After Martin and crew crisscrossed the area, looking for targets and failing to find them, I decide to take another approach. I flipped through the logs in my nerve-ware’s computer storage, pulling up the records of my conversations with McNeil and the upload of recon pics. Digging into the address information on the calls, I quickly found what I needed.
I flipped open a side channel on the comm. “Foxtrot-Two-Five-Four to Two-One-Three-Seven-Company.”
Martin’s raised her eyebrow, but said nothing.
After a few seconds, I heard, “Station calling Two-One-Three-Seven-Mobile, repeat transmission.”
“Aviation Corps Foxtrot-Two-Five-Four calling Two-One-Three-Seven, over.”
“Go ahead, Two-Five-Four”
“Four Moths overhead your area, carrying ordnance and hungry for targets. Got anything you can’t reach?”
Another pause, much longer, then McNeil came on. “What the hell? Is this Resnick?”
“Call Sign is Psycho, Major. I’m currently sending an upload handshake to your downlink, if you have any targets for us.”
It took about thirty seconds, then targeting data started streaming in. It was all items that would be just out of their artillery range, based on what we understood to be the current lines. And there were several. Joss was already sending us position pings, so we could avoid hitting any that were too close to her.
As she saw the data, Martins grinned at me and radioed to the squadron, “Kings, arm your missiles. It’s time to rock and roll.”
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