He expected the cadet to wake just in time to get to the sim center. Poe surprised him by showing up in the cafeteria for breakfast, still unhappy but no longer grousing. Perhaps the reality of Farside boredom had already set in. The sooner Poe realized that Tony had done him a favor, the better.
For two weeks, the 105th, the ‘Five and Dime’, and the 77th, the ‘Lucky Double’, would share Farside Base. The tradition dated back to a time when the Moon caused an enormous blind spot in the sky which the ESDF needed to work around. Marooning a squadron in the airless hell long term would have hurt both health and morale. Instead, they rotated squadrons from Earth every two weeks to fill the gap in defenses.
As the Force grew, the squadrons doubled up. Inevitably, the competition began.
Technology had long since removed the need for the base, but now Admiralty considered the Moon Duty competition between squadrons a vital training tool. Nowhere else near Earth did they have so much room to carry out Normal Space dogfighting practice hidden from Earth-dwelling eyes.
Secrecy was no longer as urgent as in past centuries. Once, the Enemy could have tricked Earthers into seeing the ESDF as servants of the Devil. But Admiralty and the Alliance still agreed that they could not yet go public. Embedded Enemy agents still had enough clout to get Humans to see the ESDF as “aliens”, and get them to turn on their own defenders. They kept movie and TV studios cranking out ‘evil aliens among us’ stories, priming the public for such a fatal mistake.
Poe ate his breakfast in sullen silence. Tony left him alone until the girls of the Lucky Double trooped in for their meal. Tony’s uncle had told the truth about the rival squadron. The 77th had an extraordinary number of young female officers. He hoped his college student companions in the 105 didn’t try to horn in on the action.
The leader was either the diminutive Anglo girl with sun-bleached blond hair or the taller of the two Hispanic girls. Both of them wore Senior Aviator bars. The records said the XO was named Marissa Lee, so he was guessing it wasn’t the Hispanic girl. And it looked like the Asian girl was a Flying Cadet, so… had to be the Anglo name Lee, not the Americanized version of ‘Li’. He’d been sort of hoping she’d turned out to be a fellow Chinese, but… come to think of it, there was a ‘Nguyen’ on the roster, and he saw only one Asian among them.
And now he could see that the little blond was wearing Senior Aviator bars too. So, she was the XO. A youth aviator as an XO. That was damned weird. He hadn’t even known it was possible.
It wasn’t as important as the primary detail though. He was about to spend Moon Duty with five teenage girls. This was insane luck, no matter how he parsed it.
“Brah, I think we joined the wrong squadron,” he told his trainee.
Poe ignored him and continued to eat.
Tony raised his voice slightly. “Hey, Vampire.”
The dark eyes looked up at him from the pancakes they’d been studying.
“If you look to your left, you will see the reason I wanted plenty of sim time.”
Poe finally gave them a look, followed by a shake of the head at Tony. “You said it wasn’t a girl.”
“A girl? Your math skills need sharpening, Brah. I count five girls.”
The big goth shrugged.
That’s okay, Vampire. You’ll be in the simulator. I’ll be the one outside running the boards.
Normally his trainee would have gone back to sulking, but Poe actually had something to say. “You’ll have a hard time with these ladies, Kahuna. That’s the 77th out of Berenice you’re looking at. Do you know how weird a goth and a surfer look to a bunch of small-town Texas girls?”
Tony blinked at him with surprise. It wasn’t just because Poe already knew about them; the big guy had just uttered more words than he put together in a normal hour.
“You mean you already knew about them?”
The big dude flashed him a rare grin. “My grandma lives in Berenice. She served in Gulf Base Three most of her career, so she stayed there when she retired. She told me all about them.”
But then his eyes turned more serious, and the smile vanished. “Their unit got creamed out on the Centauri Current a couple months ago. You’re looking at all that’s left of the squadron. It’s just those five girls plus a new commander. Commander’s the only adult left.”
Dude was being downright loquacious today.
Tony scratched his chin and nodded. “My Uncle Wan told me the same thing. They got jumped by a Class E ring during that big incursion. They actually killed it, but it wiped most of them out first. Only four out of the whole unit are still able to fly.”
“There’s five girls over there.”
“I meant the whole unit at the time of the fight. Survivors were the XO and three of those girls. That XO became the new CO, and the senior-most youth aviator is the new XO.”
“So two of these girls are probably flying cadets, and weren’t in the squadron yet.”
“Yup. One of ’em had her rookie mission only a month ago. She’s greener than you.”
“So, that was your big plan.”
“Cha,” he laughed. “I’ll be sitting on that board for hours, Dude. They’ll be coming in to sharpen up, especially the poor, young, greenhorn FCs. Uncle Tony will be right there to offer support, advice and encouragement.”
Poe swallowed his last mouthful of pancake and began gathering his stuff onto his tray. “Pathetic. You’ll be in eleventh grade when school starts up again, Tony.”
“You’re too young to be a dirty old man.”
Tony shook his head slowly, with a broad smirk for the big guy. “Ah, Vampire, you are so naïve. One is never too young to be a dirty old man.”