Klingseis Chapter Four
This briefing has reached the “too-fucking-long” mark. I usually like to keep these as short as possible, but plane status reports, readiness assessments, and performance evaluations tend to take a while.
In front of me are the pilots of the Ironsides, all one-hundred and sixteen of them. They sit in tiered rows, segregated into their own squadrons, fifteen seats across and ten high, going up to the far back wall. The few remaining seats are occupied with the flight gear of those who just returned from the graveyard patrol.
Most of them have their eyes on the holographic image hovering above me. It provides a visual echo of everything I say. When I give out status reports, the image updates to show the relevant file from the computer’s database. While I describe the flight plan, a map of this sector is generated. Simulated ships glide across the screen, forecasting the mission at hand.
“Connors, Aaron, and Traygorn, you have the first flight patrol. They will be relieved by Presley, Murphy, and Waters.”
Everyone perks up now that I have arrived at the flight assignments. My pilots are easy to please, just hand out their favorite flight times, and they’ll offer little complaints. I usually divide them into three categories, each with specific flight times.
The first group consists of the drunkards, the heavy drinkers who like to get their flying out of the way to provide ample time for celebrating. Their main concern is to provide enough time for the toxins to leave their systems before they climb back into a cockpit.
The second group consists of flyers whose tastes tend toward the carnal, the adrenaline junkies. They want their mornings free for pairing up, sex just adding an extra level to the high. They’re not too keen on building relationships, more concerned with the fleeting connection between two or three willing bodies.
The final group are the ones born with rocket propellant in their veins. They couldn’t give a shit when they fly. Born to be in a cockpit, excellent and precise pilots, they only truly feel alive when they stare death in the eye. This would scare the hell out of commanders in other branches, but I understand the thoughts that dwell in the darker corners of their minds. I used to be one of them.
Since we have a much higher mortality rate than our grunt counterparts, you have to be a little crazy to want to be a pilot. Even in peacetime, there is only so much safety that can be built into strapping someone in a cockpit resting on top of combustible propellant and explosive ammunition. A thin layer of metal is the only thing that separates you from lifeless vacuum. Something as miniscule as a pebble might find a weakness in the hull, killing you without emotion. On top of that, we hope that our computer is functioning properly and that our landing procedure is programmed correctly. A simple miscalculation in the trajectory could turn a fighter into a permanent depression on the outer hull of the Ironsides.
As I finish off the flight rotation assignments, I scan the room to make sure everyone is showing acknowledgment. Surprisingly, most of the chairs are filled with upright and attentive pilots, except for an empty seat in the middle of Laramie Squadron.
Damn it, Richter.
The Ironsides houses five squadrons. Our lowest ranking squadron is Griffon. It’s comprised of my least talented flyers. They certainly have their place in the fleet, but I usually only give them assignments ranging from scouting to escorting transport shuttles. Vega and Pride squadrons are both equally matched in terms of skill, each one catering to specific personality types that mesh well together. Diversity is all well and good, but it doesn’t always make for the strongest team. Over the years, I’ve found pilots with similar interests and dispositions build stronger bonds. Our bomber squadron is Hades. They’re the most recent addition and chose their name based on the obvious connection between their role in a fight and bringing death to the enemy. Thankfully, they get to spend almost all their time shuttling diplomats and high-ranking officers to and from the ship in our transports, which mimic the maneuverability and feel of the XVB-1342 ‘Rhino’ bomber. Rounding out the group is Laramie. They’re my best, most talented and fearless pilots. And also a group that currently has an empty chair staring back at me. One flyboy who is in deep shit.
“Where is Richter?”
I clear my throat a little and let my voice take on a colder tone. “Lieutenant Junior Grade Ellis Richter. Where. Is. He?”
I have a strong suspicion that everyone knows his exact location as they sheepishly avoid eye contact. I don’t have time for these kinds of games.
“Fine by me. Let’s do this the hard way then.” I point to Waters, the rightmost person in the front row. “Waters, where is Ritcher?”
“I don’t know ma’am.” He answers with eyes aimed at the ground.
“Okay, you are grounded until further notice.” He throws his arms up in protest.
I move to the next person in line. “Presley, where is Ritcher?”
“I don’t know ma’am,” he echoes.
“Fair enough, you are also grounded until further notice.” A noticeable rumbling has erupted in the room. I might be enjoying this a little too much.
“Traygorn, you know who Ellis Ritcher is, correct?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He answers.
“Blonde hair, blue eyes, muscular structure resembling a 12-year-old girl.”
“Where is he?”
“I haven’t seen him, ma’am.”
“Why don’t you take the day off today.” Many of the pilots are beginning to laugh. They think this is a game, that I won’t actually ground them all.
“I really don’t know, Lieutenant!” She screams. Poor Aaron. Her reaction is that of someone about to be unjustly executed. Deep down I know she has no idea.
“Grounded until further notice.”
I’m cut off by the sound of a door opening. An enlisted woman enters the briefing room from the backside of the room. She wears the uniform of an engineer, obviously looking for the person in charge.
Damn it. That’s me.
“Hello specialist, can I help you?” I do my best to hide the irritation in my voice.
“Lieutenant Klingseis? I have a message for you from Major Hale.”
Burying my annoyance, I motion her over. She is carrying a sealed letter and hands it to me. I open it to find a memo written in generic font.
“One of your flyboys is locked up for fighting with my Marines. You’ll have to give me a good reason to let him out.”
I fold the note and put it in my pocket. I have to bite my tongue to keep from yelling. I remember that my pilots are still expecting something from me, so I look up and give a slight wave of my hand.
Before the first of them can stand up to initiate the salute, I’m out of the bulkhead door and in a near jog toward Hale’s office. I can understand Hale using a courier for the message, this is the kind of thing you wouldn’t want to be overheard. It doesn’t bode well for intercrew relations when the branches are at each other’s throats. But if Hale thinks my “good reason” is going to be anything other than my foot up his ass, he is in for a disappointing morning.