“Ten-five-seven to Ten-five-leader.”
It was too soon for ordinary chatter. The tails of the Aviation Corps 105th Pursuit Squadron, the ‘Five and Dime’, had only just cleared the atmosphere. The call came from one of the teenagers bringing up the rear. Given the caller, the numeric call sign and the by-the-book voice procedure meant it wasn’t an emergency. The Commanding Officer shook his head and switched his microphone to ‘vox’ so it would trigger when he spoke. “What’s up, Kahuna?”
The response had a professional tone. “Sir, I would like to discuss my trainee.”
Commander Ferrar’s concern turned to irritation… or perhaps apprehension. The young aviator rarely spoke in such a formal style.
That last bit was an empty transmission. He guessed that the aforesaid trainee had triggered his mike, then bit off some testy response and let it go.
Ferrar, suspecting he should know better himself as well, replied, “Go ahead.”
Kahuna returned to the air wearing his customary surfer-boy persona. “I am updating my training report from ‘flying cadet dude just might gonna make it’ to ‘flying cadet dude just ain’t gonna make it.'”
This time, the trainee, call sign ‘Vampire’, couldn’t keep his mouth shut. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Brah, what was up with that launch!? Don’t tell me you tried to catch a wave, ’cause they don’t break that far from shore!”
“I made it, didn’t I?”
At that moment, Commander Ferrar was ready to ground both of them, but he held his temper. “Kahuna, what do you need from me?”
Kahuna reverted back to formal mode. Despite his age, the teenager was a combat veteran and could be the model officer and pilot. But, he only did it in cases of absolute necessity. “Sir, I request that my trainee report to the sim center to run at least thirty takeoffs, commencing tomorrow morning. He is not gonna put a fighter in the drink on my record!”
He was making a reasonable request over clear air where anyone who believed him wrong could intervene. But, Ferrar still didn’t consider it appropriate for mid-flight talk. He made a mental note to have a word with the young man later. Nonetheless, as CO, he had to deal with the request on the table. He called his XO, his executive officer.
“Cougar, you’re Kahuna’s adviser. Do you have anything to add?”
Being a parent, the pilot with the call sign of ‘Cougar’ enjoyed watching Ferrar’s struggles with the teenagers. He could hear the amusement in her voice as she answered, using his own call sign. “Sorry, Lobo, I couldn’t see Vampire’s launch. I was up ahead of both of them.”
That would be the case for everyone else as well; Vampire and Kahuna had been last in the launch order. The decision stayed with him. He hit on a Solomonic solution… at least, he hoped it was. “Well, Kahuna, I’ve never known you to go out of your way to look for work. If you see the need to sit with Vampire through thirty launch sims, I guess he should do it.”
With luck, Aviator Tony Ang, ‘Kahuna’, had not planned to run the instructor board for all thirty simulations. He might learn a valuable lesson from this concerning volunteering others for work. But Ferrar couldn’t shake the suspicion that Kahuna had just played him like a fiddle. It always seemed to work out that way.
# # #
To be fair, Tony admitted to himself as he climbed down from his Banshee, the noob had managed a decent landing. He found it incredible that the same pilot had been at the controls for both it and the launch.
He knew why, though. Flying Cadet Poe, the one they called ‘Vampire’, had almost lived in the simulators back on Earth for weeks leading up to this trip. He’d been anxious over his upcoming first airless landing. The Corps provided dozens of brave and glorious ways to buy the farm, ways that could guarantee the pilot’s name lived on forever. None of them included crashing into the lunar surface butt-first and above vee-max. Despite his fatalistic image, Poe refused to go out that way.
Well, if he could polish his landings in the simulator, he could polish his launches.
Tony stepped into the airlock alongside two college-age squadron-mates and a pair of ground crew. The deckhands didn’t have the alien skin enhancements and implants that protected pilots from vacuum and radiation. Their bulky vacuum suits took up most of the available space in the lock.
He pulled off his breather once the pressure came up, then wrinkled his nose against the inevitable gunpowder odor of moon dust. He’d adjust to it within a couple days; that smell was inescapable anywhere in air pressure on the Moon. The first sniff each year was still a shock.
Several of his fellow fliers still stood outside awaiting the next cycle, including Poe. Tony lingered near the inner hatch, waiting for the trainee.
When the lock disgorged the next batch, a glowering Poe ripped off his mask and helmet and blazed by Tony with a fierce scowl. ‘Vampire’ had five inches and twenty pounds on Tony. The young aviator found his trainee’s size, when combined with an sullen demeanor and gothic make-up, just a bit intimidating.
He couldn’t let the freak get away with it this time. Poe needed to adapt to Corps life, and Tony’s job included making that happen. Besides, in the low lunar gravity the noob would mix it up with a wall soon unless somebody slowed him down.
Tony glide-stepped and fell in beside the trainee. “What are you so hacked-off about?”
Poe stopped and turned, somehow maintaining his balance. The move impressed Tony. Most lunar rookies would have fallen over with that move.
“You don’t remember screwing me over for thirty sims?” he demanded.
Tony folded his arms and smirked. “Brah, you weren’t gonna hang at the mall for the next two weeks. This is Moon Duty. Welcome to The Summer Camp From Hell.”
“Thirty sims, Tony!”
“Cha. Whacha you gonna miss? S’mores?” He shook his head and smirked some more.
Dark eyes flashed. “The next time you need something to occupy your time, leave me out, okay?”
Tony pulled an impersonation learned from his grandfather’s vast video collection. “Ah, Grasshopper, you have much to learn. Especially about honorable trainer.”
“Whatever your plan is, it started with you telling the CO that my launch sucked! You were planning to say that no matter how well I did! That’s just wrong.”
Tony pursed his lips and thought for a moment. Did this sulking mean Poe cared what the CO thought? If he did, he had never shown it before.
“Your launch sucked eggs, Dude. That’s no lie.”
The cadet kept his glare fixed on Tony, but didn’t respond. Tony decided to try reason. “Look, I did expect you to screw something up. Trust me, until you polish your skills more, I can count on you for that much. I didn’t decide to pick on your launch ahead of time. You handed that one to me on your own.”
“Fine.” The big guy stared down at something on the floor. “Whatever.”
“So you don’t want to know?”
Tony leered. “The evil master plan?”
“It involves a girl, I’m sure. That’s all I need to know.”
“Oh, man, so close and yet… so not close.”
Poe shook his head, turned and walked off.
“Seven-hundred Zulu tomorrow at the simulators, Cadet.”
As confirmation, Poe gave an almost invisible toss of the head and kept walking. Tony couldn’t help chuckling.