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Part of USS Denver: Mission 5: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

A New Adventure (Getting Ta Know Ya Pt 2)

USS Denver, various locations
August 28 2374 Approximately 1900 hours ship time
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Ming was really enjoying the small talk with the new helm officer.  She was outgoing as get out and he was getting a massive kick out of her accent and word usage.  If he was being honest with himself Irish, various British, Scottish Highland accents and those from the “Deep South” region of North America varied from fascinating to engine revved to full throttle.  Arin could very well transition Irish from the former to the latter if things got interesting.   

Of course, he didn’t even realize it and, frankly, it was just a night out with a fellow officer whatever else she may be.  He was going on, at her behest, about the strengths of the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and why it was arguably the most effective fighter/bomber of the early 20th century.  In fact, the fighter pilot was both passionate and adamant about it as reflected in his presentation of the facts and the analysis of said facts as seen from a literal expert in the field.   

She let him run out of steam a bit. She loved the Lightning, though there were certainly easier fighters to fly. “If I’m to fly something with two engines, I’d rather have the Mosquito. More firepower and an equally esteemed record. Though if sheer destruction is your game, the Hawker Hurricane Mark IID has twin 40mm Bofors. Tanks, ships, trains, anything that moves.”  She said with glee in her voice. Reaching the holodeck, Arin said.  “Computer, load Jones Hangar primary. Code orange delta three.”  “You may enter when ready.” The doors opened onto grass mild. Morning dew burned off under the sun. Two hangars were just ahead. The Olive Drab building on the left had a sign that read, “Slice A’ Heaven” and the one on the right was a more austere medium gray and read “Smithsonian Cream of da Crop”.  Arin commented. “Computer. Patio set with fabric gazebo and two chairs.” she set the tumblers down. Pouring them each two more fingers, Arin handed Ming the rock tumbler saying, “Real stuff I fly.” her arm pointing to the green hangar. “Stuff I helped scan or wanted from the Air and Space Museum back on Earth.”

Ming nodded, “Went to the Air and Space Museum in Washington City a number of times myself.   The one in Tucson Arizona in the North American Southwest which evolved from what WAS the Pima Air and Space Museum as well and the old Davis-Monthan AFB airplane boneyard.  That’s where I rubbed elbows with the F-14, P-51, and P-38.  They had two prestine SR-71 Blackbirds too that they’ve had literally since they were retired from the United States Air Force at the end of the 20th Century.   Again, based on the tech of the time at development, fairly impressive for the most part.  By retirement not so much.  Things started developing much faster as the 20th turned into the 21st Century….War does that as I suspect we’ll be learning from experience shortly.  That’s why the Peregrine is the main fighter at present and the Valkyrie fighters may well be the next in line if they’re as good as we HOPE they are.    Hoping we get a couple on Denver for trials.  Captain Talon was going to try to swing that with command.  I’ve sent a similar request to my contacts in fighter command.  We’ll see if that bares fruit.” 

Marcus looked around with some admiration and said, “Incredible setup.   I guess some of my imagination was stunted growing up in New Berlin, Luna.   I likely wouldn’t have thought of something like this.  I really didn’t come to Earth much unless it was for field trips or tagging along with my folks to their jobs on Earth until I started at the Academy.  I might’ve eventually if the war hadn’t started when it did.  We’ll never know unless we start hopping parallel universes I suppose.”

“I traded my labor for file access. Since I was flying accurate ww1 simulators by the time I was ten, collecting a stable of aircraft seemed natural. As I got older, my choices were more mature. These are all of them. Computer, Hangar three.” Arin offered. 

The scenery changed. A long wide building with double doors seemed to stretch for miles. The red aluminum reflects in the sunlight. The attached runway was paved and sized to take nearly anything. 

Nearby was a lake with an attached covered dock. “You name it, I probably have it, including the Blackbird, I like flying the F-15E, or even the F-16XL. You mentioned something open air though, so what did you have in mind?” She asked as they reached the door to the office. A pair of slow ceiling fans kept the air moving a bit. She sat in her leather desk chair, setting down the tumbler and refreshing both back up to three fingers. Tapping the panel on her desk, she selected a playlist, and some soft Spanish guitar started to play. 

Ming looked around before nodding approvingly.  He even seemed a bit impressed as he said, “Very nice collection you have here.  Interesting choice in music as well.  I….Like it!”

Marcus took his newly refreshed glass and looked Airn square in the eyes as he raised his glass saying, “At the risk of sounding a bit redundant…To new friendships and the new adventures that follow!”

Arin countered with “New wingmen, and flying for beauty, freedom, and all the wonders of powered flight.” Around the office walls were hung pictures. Occasionally they changed to different aircraft from the archives. 

With a slightly lopsided grin Marcus raised his glass a bit closer to Arin’s and said, “Cheers!” 

Arin toasted, “I drink to your health when I’m with you, I drink to your health when I’m alone, I drink to your health so often, I’m starting to worry about my own!”  She drained one of the two fingers left in her glass.

Ming slugged back the contents of his glass and grinned.  After a moment he tilted his head and looked thoughtful. 

His head shifted to the other direction as he said, “I got curious and looked up your record the other day.  I’d be damned tempted to shanghai you into the Knights if I didn’t think It’d likely that I’d get keel hauled by either Captain Talon or Commander Kyo.  I hear that is rather serious on a Nebula class.” 

He added a bit of a wink as well as a much lighter tone at the end of his statement signaling that he was  being less than serious.  Buried in the back of his mind was his own internal realization that he really did find Arin beautiful.  If he allowed himself to let the thought out of that deep, secure and blocked off section of his mind he might say something foolish.   Instead he glanced at the bottle of whiskey then back at Arin looking inquisitive.  

“So fighters are impressive and I cannot say it’s not tempting, but trust me, you want someone that knows what they doing at the helm of the Denver. If she were a Defiant, that’s one thing. She’s a much bigger dancing partner. Like flying an old PBY Catalina. ” She glanced over at him and could have sworn he was staring at her, but dismissed the thought. She poured another two fingers. “In a fighter, you get to be more in the moment and fly by the seat of your pants. Like the old P51D. Some aircraft are so balanced that flying is less thought.  The Nebula is like playing chess. I need to think where the ship needs to be two minutes from now.”   

“Versus a fighter where you need to be 2-3 steps ahead of the asshats you’re going against, 2-3 steps ahead of the aforementioned enemy and, for a flight commander, you have to be 2-3 steps ahead for the other four folks you’re leading.  Makes life extra frisky in times of war.  Would’ve been nice to keep my astronautical tactics degree theoretical but the war damned well makes it an applied science it seems,” Ming said with a slightly sour tone for that last sentence.  

He sighed then tossed back the contents of his glass before putting it back on the table.  With a slightly rueful tone, he went on, “I never minded a scrap here or there.  Hell, I figured the worst we’d see would be a set of skirmishes with the Klingons or Romulans before things cooled back off and we went back to the status quo.  Man, was I wrong.”

Ming suddenly went from rueful to sheepish when he added, “Sorry.  I need to try to let go of the shop talk sometimes.  With…..all that is going on it can be tough.  Especially when other lives are on the line besides just mine.”     

“Because it’s all too real now,” Arin said. She drained her glass and poured another finger and passed the bottle to Ming. “Entering the Academy, I was always aware of the reality. Being Orion, and trust me when I say people don’t see half, I am either taken as a sex object or dismissed as something other than trustworthy and the best is dumb. since I got the looks the brains must be only to move all this around.” Snatching the bottle back, she poured two more fingers, drained half, then refilled her glass before finally handing it back to Ming. “The other part of my nickname you don’t know is that on the holodeck or any other competition. Mercy stands for No Mercy. I take life in all it’s forms seriously.” Arin replied, taking a sip. 

Ming actually chuckled.  He replied, “I always had a grasp on many realities in this universe.  Others…New Berlin, Luna had many reality checks but not as many as someone with your background might have.  Dumb you aren’t as illustrated by what I’ve seen so far and by the fact you’re at the helm of a starship and the lead at that.  Idiots or otherwise unintelligent folks usually don’t get anywhere near as far.   Beautiful as you are nobody is so one-dimensional.  Again, you’ve shown yourself to have many facets to you well beyond just one.”

He took a sip, swallowed then snorted, “My flying style and tendencies to not back down from a fight got me the nickname of ‘The Lunar Lunatic’ early at the academy.  Lunatic became my callsign thanks to that.  I can’t quite play it as fast and loose as I once did due to the war and my current position but while I don’t often pick a fight I’m damned ready to finish one once started often enough.”    “We’d be lipstick on a pig if we didn’t know how to fly agressively. Otherwise, I’d be a shuttle pilot.” Arin qiuipped. She poured them each enough to give them two fingers, downed the tumbler, and smacked it on table. “Get off yer duff, Boyo. We have a plane to fly. Computer. Move the Basler DC-3 to spot 1.” “Aircraft in place.”

Walking out the office door, straight ahead lay the shiny fuselage of Douglas DC-3. The turboprops were obvious to any with more than a passing knowledge of aircraft. Opening the rear door, she climbed, heading for the cockpit. Taking a pair of Ray-bans out of the nearby cubby, she slid into the pilot’s seat and wasted no time running through the starting sequence.  

Ming followed Arin aboard and climbed into the co-pilot’s seat next to her.  He scanned his surroundings and realized it wasn’t overly different from the B-24 and A-26 simulators he’d flown in the past.  Smiling he said, “Computer….Replicate eyeware Ming Hardshell variant 2.”

As he finished saying it a pair of hardshell framed sunglasses with brownish/gold lenses appeared in his lap.   He put them on, turned to give Arin a grin, then started up the co-pilot checklists he’d learned in repeated simulations over the years.  While he’d never flown this exact model there were a few consistancies among similar aircraft of the era.  He’d been told often his instincts for such things were eerie but he’d never seen it.  Nonetheless, he went down the checklist in his mind with nimble-fingered proficiency.   

Arin turned the boost pump on the port engine, moving the throttle to start, and watching the pressure build. Once it reached 13.5 NG. she hit the starter, watching and listening to the turboprop spool. Repeating the process for the starboard motor, the oil warmed as the turbines engines came up to operating speed. Releasing the brakes, she lined up the aircraft on runway 90. “Basler N4440T requesting clearance for takeoff.” “N4440T, this is Tower. Have a nice flight. The area is clear.”   Turning to Ming, she said. “take her up. The tail will lift at 50 knots once you apply light forward pressure on the stick, and the takeoff speed is 84 knots. ” She set the flaps down and waited for Ming to run the engines up.  

Marcus’ eyes gave the gauges and dials a casual and rather perfunctory once-over able to take in what he needed to confirm before he eased the throttle forward.  He glanced at the woman in the next seat over for a cue.  He’d learned early on that a co-pilot always followed the lead of the pilot…., especially in a classic rig like this. There was also the other major factor….First time with a new pilot.  

She took the controls, realizing he might not be familiar with the operation of a turboprop conversion of a radial engine antique. “Watch me. Pretty simple once the engines are warmed up.  Set the parking brake, spool up the engines to full throttle, slowly, then release the brake once the engines reach near full power.”Arin added “Turbines like a smooth response. You can’t always just punch it to the firewall.” Her hand rested on the center throttle. Spooling up to full throttle took several seconds. The turbines fought against the mechanical hold of the wheel brakes. Releasing the brake, the shiny metal beast slowly started to roll. Without cargo or passengers, the aircraft was more nimble than usual. The run-up to 50 knots came fairly quickly. She pressed forward on the rounded yoke, and the tail came off the ground, the noise changing slightly. 60, 70, 80, 86, she liked an extra knot or two before pulling back with enough force and the wings generated enough lift to fly. Quieter as the wheels came up. She secured the flaps. She offered the controls to Ming. “She’s a bigger girl. Respect the mass.”

Ming chuckled and said, “Sounds familiar.  I never got around to the civilian models and only got around to the bombers three times, and I am sure I was acting gunner or bombider on most.  I was more into the fighters when I first started in the holodecks.  Mustangs, Lightnings, Zeros, and a few of the Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf lines.  I started working my way up to various fighters of the 1950s, 60s, and the early first decade or two of the 2000s.  Not used to a big, beautiful lady like this.  More mass than I’ve played with.  Of course, we graduated to the Sparrows at the academy.  Great for training, pinprick hit, then fade runs, races and airshows in my NOT very humble opinion.  The Peregrins reminded me of one of my two late 20th-century loves….The A-10 Double Uglies.  Not fast, not as manuverable as the Sparrow, but they can both give and take a beating.”He paused then angrily said, “That very trait is why I still have five pilots after that shitshow in Montana. The intel on their air potential was negligent to the point of near criminality.   Günter limped back to the Denver early on.  Sh’iv barely made it to the local civilian airfield.” 

That last sentence came out as a fierce growl.  Once he heard himself, he did a series of deep breaths in and slow releases.  He glanced apologetically over at Arin and said, “Sorry.  I get quite protective of my pilots.  Bad enough when you’re dealing with an entire ship’s crew.  It gets a bit more real when your sphere of influence is a crew of five, and all you’ve got between you and them is a series of relatively small fighters.  I’ve had to do runs against Galor class ships and their Dominion counterparts before.  Nothing like being made to feel small.” 

Marcus was smiling by the end of this last set of comments.  He wrapped up the statement with a small, not entirely unhappy snort.  It was a 180 shift in moods he’d later realize.  As it was, he was back in the moment and enjoyed feeling airborne in the old aircraft with, as he had thought before, a very beautiful and rather complex woman.  For the first time in months, he felt a glimmer of something he could only describe as….Happy.    

Now at close to cruising speed, “Now, I want you to hold the controls on your side, just like before. Hand over mine. You’re going to feel even smaller.  Pushing the throttle to the firewall in a smooth but fairly swift move, the incredibly reliable Pratt & Whitney PT-6 turboprop spun up angrily. The push from 240 to close to 300 knots, then she pulled into a steep climb. Or tried to. ”This is where helping would be nice. We are going to do an Immelman, rotating clockwise on my mark.”

He’d done the Immelman turn a few times in a few fighters which is how the Imperial German pilot Oberleutnant Max Immelman originated the move.  With this type of aircraft he knew it wasn’t quite the quick maneuver he was used to however.  With that in mind he complied with the request a bit more deliberately and something like but not quite gingerly as he might’ve with said fighters. 

The aircraft complied reluctantly. It was no fighter, but she had it where it counted. She climbed turning speed into altitude as the aluminum bird slowed, then rotated the wings before pushing over so the aircraft flew in the opposite direction. 

“She will do the things. Just not quickly.” She took her hands and feet completely off the controls and got up. “Take over.” Getting up, she grabbed the pilfered bottle and found two aluminum coffee mugs. Arin shrugged. “Still great whiskey she muttered. Pouring three fingers each, she passed one to Ming, and sat back down. 

I picked this plane for a few reasons. Like the Nebula, she isn’t the fastest or best armored, but she’s a beauty for what she was meant to do.” Arin said, the sentence taking on her Irish brogue. While the speeds are different, the sense of flow between the fighter and larger ships isn’t that dissimilar. 

Ming nodded,and said, “I completely understand.   That sentiment is likely part of why I have liked the Pegrines so much.  When I was younger I loved taking out the A-10 Thunderbolt II for a fair stretch of time.  It isn’t totally analogous but enough similarities that I felt at home once the Fleet adopted the figther.  It’ll make switching to the Valkyrie a bit more interesting however I suspect.  They say she’s a more balanced fighter.  Time will tell however.”

He took the mug given to him raised it in toast before slugging the contents back.  The whole time he did so one hand stayed on the controles and the front of the pane stayed solidly within his peripheral vision.  He returned his attention forward like any good pilot in flight would but not before giving Arin a genuine smile.

“Oi, that’s what’s were doin?!” Not one to back down, she mirrored his actions in salute, gulp, and smile.” She blew out slowly. “That’s so good, I think we should land, before we finish the bottle.” Passing him the bottle, she spun back in front of her controls and took over. “I have the controls.” Arin offered. Banking the plane she made a wide lazy turn, then punched the throttle to the firewall. “She’ll get just above 300 knots.”

Soon approaching the field, Arin lowered the landing gear, and then the flaps. Lining up on the runway, she feathered the throttle to idle and let the carry over speed get them past the grass onto the runway. The airplane kissed the tarmac with hardly a bump.  She killed the engines, while setting all the switches to pre-flight status.Turning to ming she split the remains of the bottle between them. “I think we need more whiskey or coffee. I can’t tell anymore.” Then snickered.

Ming chuckled and said, “I’d call it a toss-up myself. I could go for a bit of both before we roundout the night.   If you’d like, I’d guess the next question would be….where?”

“Someplace we can make good coffee for the drink. We need to get something straight. Right now, I need pilots that I can trust more than I need physical intimacy. Especially with what we both know is on the horizon. Adding to that, we just met. Don’t rush yourself out of the competition.” Arin hinted. “If it happens, You’ll be the first to know. Be my friend first. It’s all we ever have at the end.”

Marcus paused and turned to face his companion his face turning more serious and certain.  He said, his voice matching his face, “Arin….At this point all I have aimed for has been comradery and a fun evening.  So far the night has not dissapointed.  I have no plans on taking things more than one step at a time.  At this point, IF I died tomorrow, I’d be content having a nice time with a crewmate.  Not that I intend to die at all….I intend to live forever.” 

He let that least statement hang in the air for a moment before he winked, smiled and started to chuckle slightly before he added deadpan throughout his next statement, “Last moment joking aside I am perfectly ok with friendships.  If anything else comest out of it….Well, if that happens be sure to let me know.” 

And so the evening went….Two newly minted friends enjoying an evening in like minded company.  One evening of relaxed company in an all too brief respite from war.