by Robert Lyman - 2021
“This is why I have grey hairs!” Chief Zilla yelled while pushing fingers through the holes in the wing skin. Holes nearly the size of the one inch holes in the dive flaps along the trailing edge of each wing. The chief aircraft mechanic was not amused by my excuse of ‘Hey, what’s the point in having dive flaps on the aircraft if you don’t use them?’ As for grey hair, not hard to miss in the dark brown mane that she has, but I’m not foolish enough to point that out.
The Renegade’s hanger was cold and drafty at our current altitude, which on the whole, made our examination of the damage to the new Remora dive bomber prototypes even more uncomfortable than it already was. It’s cold at sea level, but even colder at ten thousand feet above sea level and the aircraft hangar was not exactly a priority place to heat. My extremities were, let’s just say, numb bordering on “Warm us up or we’re outta here!”
The two Remoras were the only two of their kind in existence having been stolen by myself and a compatriot when we escaped the NAF. When the opportunity to raid a North American Federation military compound had popped up, Captain XO and I decided the time was ripe to test them in a combat situation.
“Look the Remora is a tough bird and the damage was min—” was all I got out before she turned and gave me a look that would freeze even a leviathan in its tracks. Her pupils became deep pools of nothingness drowning out the deep brown iris’ around them. They threatened your very mortal soul if you lingered too long. On the whole, it’s a pretty uncomfortable look and honestly, it creeps the bejesus out of me when she does it.
As for the damage, it is true that the Remora is really just a modified Parasite fighter, the airframe is a solid design and it could take a hell of a lot of punishment if the need arose. Was I going to go against the Chief and risk my very, and I mean VERY, mortal soul to quibble over this?
“That’s not the point Piper,” she said. “I have limited resources to fix the equipment we have and with the Remoras being special needs, that makes it ten times harder.” She exhaled in frustration before continuing, “Look it’s fixable, just take it easy.”
I raised my hand before she could continue, “Okay, okay, I’ll work with the crews to be more careful. Deal?”
“Deal,” she replied. Her demeanor softened and the subject changed to the raid itself. “So how was the raid?”
We turned to make our way back to the workshop and the beckoning warmth therein. “Good. Was on my way to brief the Captain when I decided to stop in and get the damage assessment.”
The warmth of the workshop enveloped us as we closed the hatch. The pungent smell of oil, grease, and that ‘black medicine’ she calls coffee never gets old when I enter this space. It seeps into your very soul and stays there like a warm blanket. Comforting you when you feel alone, revitalizing when you are emotionally drained, and driving you when you are passionate for the work. If I wasn’t a pilot, I’m pretty sure I’d have been a mechanic of some sort.
Airman Second Class Moss was waiting for us by a workbench near the opposite hatchway. “Sir, Chief. Captain requests your presence in his quarters.”
“Tell the Captain I will be there shortly,” I replied.
“Sir, he wants to see both of you,” he replied. He saluted, then turned and disappeared through the open hatch.
“What the fuck?” exclaimed Chief Zilla. “What did you get me into this time Piper?” I hesitated for a moment, quickly running over a short list of things I might have done in the last several days or weeks for that matter, that could have possibly had an adverse effect on her. Nope, nothing.
“Ah...nothing. I have no idea why he’d want to see both of us. News to me.” I politely shrugged at the assertion that I had caused any trouble. This time. Yes, in times past I have caused ‘some’ heartburn for Chief Zilla, but I’ve always been pretty good at smoothing things over and staying on her good side. One must stay on the good side of your chief mechanic if you want your ship to fly straight and true. Don’t and as I like to say, ‘It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the bottom’. Not saying she’d do something like that, just saying that while I may be crazy, I’m not stupid.
We made our way to the forward portion of the ship along the main corridor that traversed the central axis, passing other crew members along the way. Doors, ladders, and side corridors marked our passage before we stopped before a single grey door with a non-descript name plate about eye level. It read ‘Captain XO’ in white letters on a black background. I raised my hand to knock.
“Come in,” came his voice before my hand even made a forward motion. How does he do that? Christ he always seems to know when someone is outside his door.
While I was busy contemplating the existentialist nature of the Captain’s clairvoyance, Chief Zilla twisted the handle and shoved past me.
“I hate waiting,” she said without even so much as a glance in my direction. I opened my mouth to reply then thought better of it and stepped into the cabin behind her.
The Captain’s cabin was a spartan affair. Same grey color as the hallway, not much bigger than your typical hotel room save for the incredible view out the viewport along the back wall. Ten thousand feet up over the Atlantic ocean was a stellar view in my book. He sat behind his desk off to the right facing the door leaving space in front for the Chief, myself, and two chairs. To the left was a modest bunk, sheets pulled taught with a fold just before the pillow. Still does eighteen and eight. Some traditions never change.
We each gave a perfunctory salute and took the chairs offered to us by his simple hand gesture.
“So Commander, how did they perform?” he asked.
“It went pretty well all things considered. The NAF Fenris was docked there, so we had a nice big target to aim for. I think we damaged her, but it was hard to see once the bombs started falling. Ack-Ack, sorry Lieutenant Flack managed to knock out the power station and I targeted the headquarters building. It should keep them on their heels for a bit, but I’ll know more once I review the gun camera footage,” I said.
“Good, write up the AAR and I’ll pass it along to Wick for further analysis,” he replied. Ugh, that’s the one thing I hate about missions; the paperwork. After action reports can be so tedious especially when the action is tight and busy. But if I get it done now, I have more time later for myself. And now that we were heading back to Wick for a quick refit there wouldn’t be much for me and the aircrews to do for several days. Yeah I know there’s always things to do, especially aboard the Renegade, but still work should be light regardless. Might be able to get the Hussars or the Zouave to part with some of their ill gotten gains in a good craps game. Gotta pay for the good Islay single malt somehow.
“I’ll have it for you within the hour,” I replied.
“Chief, what’s your assessment?” he asked.
“Minor damage from the action, some holes in the skin on Piper’s craft and Ack-Ack’s bird had minor damage to the starboard dive flap. Nothing that we can’t repair on the ship, but we need to remind the flight crews to be mindful of taking unnecessary risks on a mission,” She cast a side glance at me with that last statement.
“Ouch,” I replied, casting a wink in her direction. “Point taken, Like I said, I’ll chat with the flight crews.”
I started to rise, “Captain, if you have no other need for m—”
“Remain seated Commander, I still need you here,” he said without even taking his eyes away from the sheet of vellum on his desk.
“I received word over the aetherfore from Luxembourg Intelligence Service while you were away.” In one swift move he rotated and pushed the sheet of vellum over to Chief Zilla. “I understand you’re Sichangu, right?” he asked.
She nodded and picked up the vellum from the desk. Her eyes drifted from the page back to the Captain and then back to the page before an audible gasp escaped her. “What is it?” I asked. Still wasn’t sure why I needed to be here, but I was asked to stay so I stayed.
“It’s an intel report of some NAF intercepts the LIS picked up in a routine signal sweep,” he replied before taking it back from the Chief and passing it over to me. “Also a message from the United Native Confederation Security Services.
I skimmed the header meta data. Mostly boilerplate stuff, though one element stuck out. NAFSB.
North American Federation Security Bureau.
If NAFSB was involved this was a big deal. Trouble was, what kind of deal was it? “LIS thinks NAFSB found something, something big. Trouble is, it’s somewhere deep in the foothills of UNC territory and the UNC is none too pleased about it. They are pressing the issue over a treaty violation and will not let NAFSB investigate further. Seems there was an unauthorized survey team from the NAF Science Ministry which was mysteriously removed by UNC security personnel.
“According to LIS the UNC is not taking this lightly and has pushed this to the highest levels in the NAF. In a word, they’re pissed. I think this time is different.” He paused for a moment, “I know you haven’t been back there in a long time, but I also know you stay in touch with your family.”
“Wait—” she stammered. I’d never seen the Chief suddenly flummoxed over something the Captain obviously already knew about.
“How do I know? Chief I know a lot more than people give me credit for. Suffice to say I know you’ve been using the aetherfore to communicate with your family from time to time. I’m okay with that, hell I’m surprised the commander here doesn’t do it himself, but I suspect him being relatively new to the crew, didn’t want to chance it just yet. Just be careful doing it. The NAF will do anything to capture the Renegade and shoot us down if capture isn’t possible. Vigilant OPSEC remains one of our best defenses against that outcome.”
She looked at once dejected and also a bit relieved as the secret no longer had to be kept. “Look it hasn’t been that much and I always keep it to a minimum, but thanks for being understanding,” she said.
I actually had managed to use it once since joining the Renegade crew, but that was for about two minutes to let the wife know I was safe. It was right after I left the NAF with the Remora dive bomber and it’s design plans. Thankfully she was safe in our small seaside house on Islay, having been moved just before I made my escape.
“Hmm... reports indicate a lot of activity. I’ll have someone look into it. Probably nothing to worry about,” replied the Captain.
“So what makes you think this time is different?” I asked, changing the subject back to message. Up to this point I had nothing of interest to add and had not even read the report beyond the meta data at the top.
“Finish reading,” replied the Captain.
I looked back to the report, skipping the header info down to the meat of the message. NAFSB: NORTH AMERICAN FEDERATION SECURITY BUREAU
NAFDM: NORTH AMERICAN FEDERATION DIPLOMATIC MINISTRY UNC: UNITED NATIVE CONFEDERATION
BEGIN NAF MESSAGE TRAFFIC
NAFDM: UNC REFUSES RELEASE OF SURVEY TEAM. SEE BELOW RESPONSE
UNC DIPLOMATIC MINISTRY:
IN VIOLATION OF THE EXISTING TREATY OF ROSEBUD, A NAF SCIENCE MINISTRY TEAM HAS BEEN ARRESTED FOR AN ILLEGAL OPERATION WITHIN THE BOUNDARIES OF UNC SOVEREIGNTY. FIVE OF THE SEVEN MEMBER TEAM HAVE BEEN DETAINED UNTIL THE EXTENT OF THEIR ILLEGAL ACTIVITY HAS BEEN DETERMINED. A SEARCH IS UNDERWAY FOR THE REMAINING TWO MEMBERS PLUS AN UNKNOWN ENTITY THAT IS WITH THEM. DO NOT, WE REPEAT, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO ENTER THE UNC TO ASSIST IN THEIR RECOVERY. THIS WILL BE CONSIDERED A HOSTILE ACT AND WILL BE MET WITH EXTREME FORCE. NAFDM: ALL EFFORT TO BE MADE IN RELEASE OF SURVEY TEAM AND SECURE SURVEY SITE. DIPLOMATIC MEASURES CANNOT BE UTILIZED. NAFSB: AFFIRMATIVE
END NAF MESSAGE TRAFFIC
BEGIN UNITED NATIVE CONFEDERATION MESSAGE TRAFFIC
END UNITED NATIVE CONFEDERATION MESSAGE TRAFFIC
I set the vellum back on the Captain’s desk and took a deep breath, holding it a moment, before letting it with a low whistle.
“Chief, does this mean what I think it means?” asked the Captain.
Chief Zilla lowered her head in a deep exhale, then raised it back up inhaling just as deeply before leveling her eyes at the Captain.
“Yes,” she replied, her voice monotone, but with a hard edge behind it.
“What am I missing here?” I asked.
“It means,” she said and turned to face me, “I’m going home.”
“And you’re going to take her,” replied the Captain.