I have to admit, I had a very long list of questions regarding these two, but I put them aside and instead asked Farley, “What happened?”
“The weapon that got us was repeating fire. Dodged all but two of them. One of them hit at the cockpit. I took shrapnel in the leg and the arm. Nothing penetrated my vac-skin, but I’m busted up inside.”
He yawned, then gave another weak grin. “And I’m monged out on morphine, so excuse me if I fall asleep.”
“Seems like you landed pretty clean. You managed that while banged up that bad?”
He let out laugh. “I’ve always been a lucky git, skipper. I wouldn’t want to try that landing a second time.”
I nodded, then told him, “Then I need the keys, Chief.”
Space craft aren’t cars. They don’t have literal keys. I was asking for the lander’s command codes.
“What do you need them for?” Red demanded before Farley could respond.
I looked over my shoulder and frowned at her. “It’s pretty obvious that I have to pilot the lander, Red. There’s no other choices here.”
She back to Farley and asked, “I know you’re wounded, but you can still fly, right? You put the lander down!”
He shook his head. “Not a chance. The shrapnel shattered my thighbone and my collarbone. I had to fly without using any rudder and I could only run my throttles through nerveware. I don’t have enough nerveware bandwidth to fly her safely.”
“Cody!” she yelled at me, “You can’t do this! Get back in the Moth with Martins and get out of here!”
She only called me Cody around Espees. I guessed that “Cap” was just no longer in her vocabulary for some reason. That made me feel a little sad.
“So are you going to fly it, Red? You don’t have atmospheric pilot training, right?”
I’m sure she simmed Banshees or something at some point, but IRL she had proceeded directly from a partially-successful implant procedure to Remedial Training. They would have taught her only space flight. They would have taught her how to pilot landers or something if she’d gone to the Training Corps, but instead, she learned how to take off and land a Goblin in Flight Engineer school. A Gob is an elevator, not a plane. It goes up and down. It doesn’t fly through the atmosphere on wings.
But she was insistent. “You’ve never flown this craft either! What’s the difference!”
So you really were planning to fly it yourself? Red, are you nuts?
Should I have just claimed it was the same as the Dragon cargo craft that I flew for two months? It wouldn’t have been true, though. To get more cargo capacity, they had completely replaced the Dragon’s power plants with jets intended for non-interstellar craft that weighed only half as much, and the assault ramp they added had completely changed the weight distribution and glide profile.
But I had a different answer for her. The only appropriate answer, as far as I was concerned.
The lieutenant had walked up behind her while we argued. Martins had a concerned look on her face, but she didn’t try to interfere.
Red gave me a glare and repeated, “Cody!”
I retorted, “It has a throttle, a stick and a rudder, doesn’t it?”
To my mystification, I could see tears forming up again. She was genuinely fearful of the idea. To save my life, I couldn’t figure out why.
“If you can make it fly, I will fly it,” I reminded her. “That’s the way we’ve always worked, Red.”
“Hang on!” the lieutenant broke in. “I thought you just came to evac your people! You can’t try to fix that lander! It’s too dangerous!”
I looked over at his wounded, back to him and shook my head. “Martins’ squadron only has room for eight passengers. And that’s if they aren’t on stretchers. There’s nowhere near enough room to carry this crowd.”
The lieutenant scowled and shook his head. He turned back to Martins. “It’s too dangerous to keep your ship on the ground, commander. Once it gets light enough, they’re going to spot it and start shelling.”
She nodded. “I agree, but it’s not my show. I’m just escort for the captain’s ship. It’s his lander and his crew.”
He looked back at me, a scowl on his face. I saw his eyes glance at my purple Senior Aviator bars.
The Surface Corps does have a small number of youth officers, but they serve in technical roles. They don’t let minors serve in paratrooper outfits. Having no experience with youth officers, this man was seeing a ‘kid’, not a ‘captain’.
I set my jaw and asked him, “There’s a no-fly zone in this area. How soon do you think your headquarters can get these guys out of here?”
He shook his head. “That isn’t the point. You need to go, because I can’t guarantee the safety of your spacecraft. As long as it’s there, it’s a magnet for artillery fire!”
“Not a problem,” I assured him, then looked at Martins. “Commander, I believe you’re leaving now, right?”
Our plan was that she and I would get back into the air and fly cover while Red was on the ground. But she nodded and gave a wry smile.
“That really is the new plan, then?” she responded. “You’re staying behind.”
“Farley’s wounded. Someone has to fly the lander.”
After mulling it over again, she nodded. “Fine. I’ll have to take it over friendly territory, since I won’t have a second seater. You need me to come down again to refill the propellant tanks right?”
“Depends on how much water is left in them. I only need to hop this thing over to friendly territory to refill and drop off the wounded, after all.”
After a moment of thought, she nodded again. “I’ll get going after we confirm the lander can be repaired.”
“This one shall accompany you,” came a new voice. We turned to see that PTO Joss had entered the shelter.
“Good to see you, PTO,” I greeted her. “I have lots of questions.”
“The weapons are in the gear. Is it correct?”
Zindavoor has the weirdest way of saying things sometimes. Joss had insisted Red and I bring H&K rifles, just in case. I had only fired one in general training, four years before this, so I considered it at best even odds that I even remembered which end was which.
I nodded. “They should be in the gear. It’s all out?”
Red answered, “Yeah.”
She still sounded unhappy.
“Let’s grab our weapons and go do an evaluation. I’m done here as soon as I get the keys.”
“Hang on!” the lieutenant demanded again. “I said I’m not agreeing with this! This is no place for you to hang around playing soldier! We could get overrun in the next attack!”
“Ah, shut your gob, looey!” Farley ordered. Not that a chief warrant officer can actually order a lieutenant, but he sounded annoyed and was probably fighting a fair amount of pain, so I didn’t blame him. The lieutenant glared over at him.
Farley glared back. “Sorry to interrupt, Lieutenant, Sir, but she’s my vessel. I’ve a say ’bout what goes on with her.”
“That’s right!” His eyes flashed in triumph, looking back to me. I think he thought Farley was about to side with him. Maybe it looked obvious to the man that I shouldn’t do it?
Frankly, I thought he might be planning on opposing it myself. And he had a point. The vessel might belong to my ship currently, but it was his vessel in the end. I could theoretically relieve him of command of it, and I had every right to do so, given his condition, but was he about to force me to do that?
For some reason, he didn’t. He held out his hand to me like he was offering to shake. “Throttle, stick and rudder. Right, Captain?”
It took me a moment to understand what he intended to do. I clasped his forearm with my hand. He grasped mine in return, to complete the pilot’s ‘nerve-ware handshake’ which put our wrist pickups next to each other. I granted the incoming message request and data flowed into my input buffer. It was the access codes for Farley’s lander. We ignored the lieutenant’s fuming protest.
Farley let go and dropped his arm back to his side. “You crash her, and I will personally follow you to Hell just so I can drag your arse back here and kick it straight back to Hell again.”
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