Klingseis Chapter Eleven
“…three of them leapt over the table and jumped me. It was a complete ambush. They’re lucky I’m not pressing charges against them for striking an officer.”
“And who would you complain to? Hale? You know he hates pilots. You might as well show up with your hands behind your back and beg for another night in the brig. You really are a moron, Richter.”
I catch the tail end of my pilots’ conversation as I enter the ready room. Since this room is built like an auditorium, Richter’s rant isn’t exactly muffled. My recently detained pilot is regaling Traygorn with his tale of catching an ass beating last night. I almost think about slowing to catch the whole story, but then remember how pissed I am at him. Richter snaps to attention when he notices me. Traygorn follows suit, tightening up like piano wire. Good training.
Richter hurries to my side. At 5’6 and around 60 kilograms, he is a man built to fit inside a cockpit. His buddy, Traygorn, is thinner and much taller. When together they resemble a cartoon odd couple. Richter wastes little time barraging me with excuses.
“LT, I’d like to speak to you about what happened last night. Why I missed this morning’s assignment meeting.”
I decide to deal with the tall one first. “Traygorn, you’ve just landed from patrol?”
“Yes, ma’am. Nothing but black space.”
“I’ll read all about it in your report. Go see to that. Dismissed.”
Traygorn gives Richter a sympathetic clap on the shoulder, then grabs his gear and heads to the locker room. I continue my walk towards the flight deck, first exiting the ready room and then entering the long corridor connecting the two areas. It’s just wide enough for two people to walk side by side. This regrettably allows Richter to attach himself to my hip. My pilot’s excuses are the last thing I want to hear right now. My bird is waiting for me. Since I haven’t flown in a couple days, I have an extra-long list of pre-flight checks to make before these war games kick off. Thankfully, only one person can fit in the cockpit.
Well, there was that one time…
“LT, last night really wasn’t my fault. I know I shouldn’t have been with the grunts, but I didn’t start the brawl, and I didn’t violate any regulations.”
I raise my palm in the air. Thankfully, my pilot sees this as a clear signal to cease the chatter. “Can it, Richter, don’t play that innocent bullshit with me. You had no reason to antagonize a group of Marines, whether they were on your turf, or not, unless you were looking for trouble. Well you found trouble. That’s why I’m grounding you, so you and trouble can spend some time together.”
“Kingseis, I’m…involved with one of the Marines. Corporal Sears. He and I were supposed to meet at O’Keefe’s. He never showed, and yes, I should have left. Instead I was upset and started drinking. The other grunts started to notice. When I left for the Lounge, they must have followed.”
Damn it, Richter.
“And…as I was leaving, I might have let out a couple comments about their mothers, maybe something about the Marine Corps. I think a couple of MPs suspected something was going to happen and followed just to watch. Those bastards waited just long enough so the rest could get enough good licks in, then broke it up before the pilots could retaliate.”
“Either way, you made the wrong decision. Being involved with an enlisted Marine as a Navy officer is right at the top of the list of ‘Stupid Shit You Shouldn’t Do’. I had to visit Hale to pull your ass out of the brig, and I don’t like visiting Hale. Hale’s mother doesn’t like visiting Hale.”
“So, what do I have to do?” Richter asks, cutting to the chase, and obviously fearing the answer.
“Well, shit rolls downhill, wouldn’t you say? For you, literally. You’re going to volunteer with civilian waste management on Portway Station during your off-duty hours this next week. Oh, and by the way, you’re grounded.”
“LT, I’m still in Laramie. I’m one of your best pilots. I have no problem cleaning the head, but you can’t afford to take me out of the rotation. Especially now, with the Hycain Ambassador on board.” For a moment I’m surprised word has gotten around so quickly of the Ambassador’s presence, then I remember this is the Ironsides. No secret, classified or not, survives on this ship for long.
“Is that right, pilot?”
“Richter, do you know who I am?”
“Yes, I do, LT.”
“Tell me who I am.”
“You are Lieutenant Klingseis.”
“What’s my job title?”
Richter takes in a long inhale, and then slumps his soldiers. He knows he has lost this standoff. “You are the wing commander.”
“That’s correct, and as wing commander, I decide who I can’t afford to lose. You aren’t currently on that list, and won’t be for at least a month. Keep pushing it and it will be longer.”
Ritcher turns his gaze to the floor in defeat. “Yes, Ma’am.”
As much I want to give into his plea for mercy, I have to be a hard ass in these situations. Any show of weakness can undermine my position and make the pilots think we’re all just friends with different job titles. Still, it’s hard not to feel guilty for grounding him. I’m sure for most officers, being told they are assigned to light duty is a dream come true. You still get your paycheck, but instead of long hours and early rises you get long lunches and early dinners. For pilots, on the other hand, it’s enough to drive you insane. The only way anyone makes it as a pilot is if they have a physical need to be in the cockpit. If we were permitted to sleep in our birds we wouldn’t even need quarters. Part of me might have forgotten that over the last few months. But as the wing commander, it’s my responsibility to discipline my pilots, and the only way to do that is instilling the fear of losing their flight status.
As we step out of the corridor, a sinking feeling strikes my gut as gravity begins to shift in the plating below us. The flight deck pulses with a red glow, a clear sign from the bridge to ready for battle.