Authors: David Guenther
Gray Panther Space Port
3 September 2128
Captain Young was feeling slightly overwhelmed as his team stood before him with all their gear laid out before them. Each man was dressed in the regulation optical deflection combat suits. They had been limited to two changes of uniforms and a set of athletic gear. Field gear was less standardized as the mission was non-standard. Every member of the team carried a Gray Panthers Special 10mm automatic as their standard side arm. Most of the team carried the standard Beamer Rifle. While some carried a modified Beamer that included a special weapons adapter so they could mark targets for supporting arms. For this mission each member brought a 10mm carbine in the event they had to go old school without powered weapons. The rest of their field gear had been standardized to include both a fighting knife and the new laser knife. The laser knife was able to project a beam up to forty inches and could easily cut through the strongest metals. Each man had also been given a special allowance to buy a civilian suit for the mission so they would appear less threatening when they interacted with civilian aliens. The remainder of the other gear included: body armor, basic ammo load, field rations, individual shelters, sleeping bags, batteries, and electronic gear. Young scratched his head wondering what was being forgotten as he ordered his team to load up the shuttle with the team gear including bulk ammo and squad served weapons, explosives, electronics, and more field rations. The team then loaded their personal equipment as they tried to find room to sit in the cramped shuttle. The AI Major Rogers appeared before Young.
“Captain Young, it is close to launch time,” the AI reminded the Captain.
“Thank you Major, it seems like something is missing and I don’t have my load list to figure it out,” Young confessed.
“You are correct Captain Young; you did forget two major items. You have not loaded the gold for the mission. Second, you have not given an inspirational speech to your troops before starting the mission. I have notified the couriers you are waiting for the delivery of gold and it should be here in minutes. That just leaves an inspirational speech on your part.”
Young walked over to the shuttle and saw how crowded it was but knew the gold would fit even if the troops had to sit on it.
“Looks like we only have to load the gold then we can be off. It should be here any minute. I wanted to load it last so we can get rid of it as soon as we get to the Beater. I don’t like the thought of having to pay back that much from my check for three thousand years.”
A civilian pickup soon pulled up and Young saw it was Dan Daniels in civilian clothes with his assistant dressed in a red mini dress that seemed to enhance every feature. Torn between calling his men to attention or not, Dan saved him the trouble.
“Hey everyone, could you come over here for a second please. I have some boxes for the trip. If you could stow them for me I’d appreciate that,” Dan said.
Young found himself with his men immediately loading the twenty boxes into the shuttle as he wondered when the gold would show up and if he would have the room for it now.
“Gather round please,” Dan asked. “We don’t know what the outcome of the mission you are about to go on will be. I want your team to know it was chosen from more than a dozen sources as having the best chance of success. This is another example of getting more for doing more. I can’t go into specifics of the mission for security reasons but it is vital to not only our ability to defeat our enemies but to defend Earth as well. You ten men and the team from Beater are Earth’s best chance. Remember that when you think of your families and friends or if you feel like you can’t go on. God Speed.” Dan then proceeded to shake each man's hand until he got to Young.
“Good luck, James, I have total faith in you. I will not hold you up as it’s almost departure time,” Dan stated shaking his hand.
“Thank you sir. As soon as we get the gold we will be gone.”
“James, your men just loaded the gold from my truck. Each box contained one hundred pounds of gold. You now have one ton of gold onboard your shuttle,” Dan said smiling. "I figured it was best to keep it low key since no one would ask me what's in my truck.”
Juanita walked up to Young and gave him a little hug and a light kiss on the cheek and said, “Be safe James and come with all your men. I will pray for you.” Dan turned with Juanita on his arm and headed back for the truck as Young basked in an after glow from the hug and kiss.
Heading for the shuttle, each of his men were openly smiling at his discomfort from the public display of affection. “OK everyone, strap in. We are on our way finally,” Young hollered as he tried to make his way through the constricted cabin to the flight deck. The AI appeared and offered to fly the mission if Young wanted to use the time for reviewing the mission. “Thanks Maj. Rogers, you may fly us to the Arizona Space Ship Beater. You already filed the flight plan I’m assuming.”
“Yes Captain, sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Ten stories down Dart flight was being reunited with their fighters. The maintenance chief walked up to Matt and saluted sharply and Matt returned it. “Lt. Andrews, we made some modifications to the ships while they were here. We painted each ship with a special material that absorbs ninety percent of known scanner rays so it will be harder for an enemy to lock on to the ships. We also fabricated replacement engines that have their energy source built into them. The engines will be good for five years. The upgrade also fixed the problem with number nine since there is no longer an interface. There is no difference in the procedures or handling of the ships lieutenant.” Matt started to redden with anger at the thought of having to fly untested ships at this late stage of the game when he felt another presence behind him. Matt was not sure what to make of Colonel David Dusty Rhodes showing up at this time as he stiffened to the position of attention and saluted the little Colonel. Dusty returned the salute as if he were on a parade ground.
“Matt, I want you to know I did not want you on this mission. I wanted you and your flight for a half dozen different projects. I was over ruled and I think that was a good thing. I believe your flight has the best chance of success for this mission. I did not like the reports of Dart Nine so I made sure each fighter was thoroughly gone over. After the upgrades, I acted as test pilot and put each bird through complete acceptance flights. I was a test pilot for many years and these birds are some of the most fun I’ve ever had flying. Each bird now has ten to twelve hours on them, each is code 1 in the forms. Call your fight here if you will please.”
Matt looked over to his flight mates in the distance and signed “form on me.” When they were all there the Colonel continued.
“Your flight has exceeded every expectation. I originally asked Matt to join the Gray Panthers and he haggled with me to give you all an opportunity also. I’m glad he did. I think you may be the best damn flight in the GPs. Your selection for being the first pilots for the Darts is proof of that. The mission you are going on is critical to the defense of Earth and could make the difference in either winning or losing the war. Good luck Darts.” David then shook each pilot's hand congratulating them on their graduation from the academy and made the offer to a full scholarship to anyone that wanted one.
Climbing into the Dart the crew chief helped Matt connect to all his leads and strapped hi into his seat. It felt like second nature as they worked as a team. Matt commed the flight. “Everyone ready to go home? Let's kick the tires and light the fires.”
The engine and sensations of flight seemed the same except when he accelerated it seemed smoother. Soon the Arizona Space Ship Beater was ahead of the flight as Matt received instructions for approach and where each ship was to park. The new voice did not sound familiar to Matt but he accepted the instructions.
After landing the team noticed there was now a force field to keep the atmosphere in the bay when the external hatch was open. A contingent of ground pounders were unloading a shuttle, the thought of so many people on the ship made Matt think of the limited mess facilities and heads on the ship. This was going to be a long trip. Matt looked back at the rest of his flight. “OK get your gear stowed and I’ll see the Captain for instructions. Guess the Captains on the bridge”
“Lt. Andrews, the Captain, is in storage hold three,” came from the same strange voice as earlier.
“Please identify yourself,” Matt requested.
“I am Beater, the ships AI,” Beater replied.
Walking towards the storage hold Matt caught the Captain returning to the bridge. “Welcome aboard, Lt. Andrews. You and your flight will have nothing to do for the next five days. We are leaving now utilizing the FTL drive. I suggest you and your flight use that time to go over your Darts and make sure we will have no surprises. Five days from now we will have to drop out to normal space to check our coordinates and give the engines a break for six hours. We may have hostiles so we will need the Darts ready to provide combat air patrol for the ship. The ships AI can give you additional information as needed. Carry on.” The Captain was gone before Matt could ask any questions.
With nothing else to do Matt headed for the mess to see if he could get a snack. Entering he was surprised to see the area was much larger and that there was a chef unit. Going up to the unit he ordered a cheese burger and was annoyed to have to play twenty questions.
“I want a quarter pound of lean ground sirloin cooked to medium. With a white bread roll the same size lightly toasted. Cheddar cheese evenly melted over the meat. A quarter pound of French fried potatoes, which ever style is most often ordered. I want a 32 ounce glass of ice water also.” A ding signaled the food was ready as Matt opened the machine and took out the tray of food. Taking the food to the table, he was relieved to see ketchup and salt. Grabbing the first french fry he was immediately impressed with the taste and consistency. The burger tasted like it had come off a grill and Matt slowly ate the food contentedly. A pair of ground pounders came in and sat across from Matt asking him how the food was.
“That machine could close out any burger restaurant I’ve ever been to. I’m Lt. Andrews from Dart Flight,” Matt replied.
Neither man realized the kid before them was an officer and both began to rise. Matt seeing what was going on said, “At ease, as you were. We have a small ship and a lot of people.” Both men looked at the other and sat back down.
“I’m Sgt Polanski, this is Sgt Jones, we’re with the OPFOR team onboard,” Polanski replied.
“If you’re hungry for a cheeseburger and fries go for it. The food is amazing. Don’t let me stop you,” Matt suggested.
“Attention please, this is Commander Johnson, Captain of the Beater. Welcome aboard. The ship is at its limits for passengers so bear with us for restrictions on the mess and heads. The mess is considered all ranks and will not be called to attention for any officer including myself. Hangar and bay areas will not be called to attention because of the work going on there. If anything is needed please bring it to the attention of a crewmember. Any complaints should go through your chain of command and from there taken to a crewmember. Please respect each other’s privacy what there is of it, and treat each other with respect. We will be engaging the faster than light drive soon. Once engaged we will be in hyper space for five days. There will be a commanders meeting at 1500hrs at the mess. That is all,” Commander Johnson announced through the public address.
“Thank you, Captain Young and Lieutenant Andrews for coming. This is breaking ground on many levels. Captain we are used to the customs and courtesies of our old services and our people are also. No disrespect intended towards you or your group lieutenant, but the Gray Panthers have nothing yet so we are making it up as we go along. When there are mixed members in a berthing area they shall leave the hatch open. I know that your experience in the academy was mixed head, on ship we will set times for showering and will work something out for using the heads. Ideas gentlemen?” Commander Johnson asked.
“Sir, not to be disrespectful, especially since the main topic of this meeting is the women of my flight, I do have an idea. The female officers of my flight will use any facilities when they need to and if someone is offended we can handle it at that time, sir,” Lt. Andrews suggested.
Capt. Young offered, “Commander, I only need to remind my men that the women are officers and not to get any ideas, I believe that will cool their ardor. I think the better our teams get along the more beneficial it will be to our mission and any future missions. If one of my teams needs close air support, I want whoever is in that cockpit to be able to put a face to that call sign on the radio. I will be sure though to tell my men to use extreme discretion when the ladies invade their privacy and are unable to resist my men ha,ha,ha."
“OK gentlemen, we are totally coed. Lieutenant there is one deficiency I would like your team to try and address. The abbreviated academy you went through was seriously lacking in hand-to-hand combat training. I would like you to coordinate some training with the OPFOR team. I also want your team to brief the OPFOR team on the abilities of your Darts so they know your strengths and weaknesses when they need support from you. Lieutenant, I want you to get with my XO and setup a duty roster so that your pilots can get some time on our flight Deck for a little extra flight time in their logs. Myself and Lt. Horton have been trained as astrophysicist. I realize it was covered in the academy, but I offer our services if you would like your flight to have additional training. Five days with nothing to do does not make Jack a dull boy, it makes him nuts. I know the Captain has many classes and briefings in regards to his mission that is why I have not tasked his team with any additional duties. I would appreciate though if you could find time for personal defense training for the Dart pilots. Last chance, anything else for me?” Commander Johnson asked.