And all that’s best of dark and bright
August 20, 2937
Repairs had taken nearly five weeks after the last heavy run they had done. The port side strut with lasers and missile banks had been completely blown off the vessel, they had lost one engine, and the port side had been pocked with over 200 holes from laser fire, but they had brought home their troops intact. Deckard recalled the pride he had felt over the job Bell, now Marx, had done. She had taken to the training better than any student prior and her confidence was sky high.
He walked the ship looking her over, checking for flaws in the repairs. But she was clean, only a trained eye would have been able to see the patch marks and welds. The Egret was ready to soar. He closed his eyes and ran his right hand across the port side letting his fingers feel for incongruities in the surface. His caress returned the sensation of a cool skin; silky smooth and devoid of flaws. He stopped briefly and just breathed in her scent. The hangar was dimly lit, the mood drawing him closer to her. He pressed in against her and she held her place. For Deckard there was no closer relationship, none her trusted or relied on more than her. She was all he had; every other relationship was temporal and fleeting. He breathed out deeply and sunk against her. No matter how bad things got, or how bad they had been, she was always there for him.
He opened his eyes and moved to the hold. He stepped through the portal and tapped the panel to close her up, then made his way to the deck. Bell had just finished all the pre-flight tests. She gave him a thumbs up and that sly grin he had come to expect from her. He slid to the right and took second seat strapping himself in. Quickly checked his flight controls and massaged the yoked to test it for nuances of pull or give. It held tight and had obviously gotten some work as well while the ship had been under the knife.
“Ships solid, Commander. Better than before if you ask me.” Bell piped up, “We got eleven minutes to make the rendezvous and grab our troops. It’ll be good to see the 27th again.”
Bell had a graceful, and perhaps even grateful, demeanor about her when she spoke of the 27th. They hadn’t seen the unit since Tiber II. Bell talked about them constantly and Deckard knew she was excited for a reunion with those who had made it out. Sarge had stayed in touch with her, as had Chen, but there were few left of that heroic brood that stormed the mounds and taken down the artillery line that day. The 27th had been replenished; many of her vets had been hospitalized for months after the affair. They had a new CO, Bell had told him, and they were considered an elite unit with 100 grunts of the grittiest and grimiest that their new Commander could muster. Technically she was still a part of the 27th. But with them down for months after Tiber, she and Deckard had been flying whatever troops they were told too, into whatever scenario they had too. They had seen some rough combat, but nothing would ever compare to T2.
Bell had received some commendation or other. Deckard couldn’t recall what it was. He couldn’t even remember his own medals, and wasn’t even sure where he had left them. If he ever got called to a fancy ceremony he would be scrambling to find them and chances were he wouldn’t find all of them and would end up demoted. She was excited about it though. He had to listen to her ramble on about it for days after she got the thing. But it was worth it; seeing her perk up and start to push past the nightmares and the memories was good for them both.
“Control this is Dropship 47449, preparing for liftoff. Request for civilian vectoring and clearance. Over.” Bell toned in on the comms as cool and smooth as any hardened vet.
“47449, this is control, you are cleared for a liftoff on vector 3115 mark eight. Over.”
“Copy that control, 47449 out. Bell grinned and took the ship forward as the hangar doors parted. She glided over the threshold and slid upward into Earth atmo as smooth as a dove on the wing. The Egret held tight, the controls seemed firm and clean. There were no hums, no vibration, and the engines purred out a rhythmic cadence so quiet it was almost like they were flying in civ craft.
Deckard glanced over at Bell and her big grin, “You might want to…”
“Run her hard and see if she holds together? Way ahead of you, Commander.” She turned that big grin toward him and Deckard couldn’t resist returning it with a chuckle. She had this stuff down. It was no longer about her learning to fly; her time with him was coming to a close and soon she would be lead pilot of her own ship with a fresh green recruit all her own to torture and train.
Things were good. He felt like he had been washed clean and come out starched and pressed. He was walking tall and looking good; like a respectable officer. His enjoyment for flying was back. The past was past, Bell had shown him that. He couldn’t change what had happened before, but he could move forward and make choices that improved his own life. He leaned back in the seat and put his arms up, lacing his fingers behind his head and closing his eyes, unable to wipe the grin off of his face.
Bell pushed the ship hard; rolling it, nose diving, forcing it straight upward, and banking hard back and forth. Deckard just laid back and enjoyed the sensations of the ship doing what it had to do in response to her every command. They coasted through a pink sunset as dusk closed out the day. Deckard took in the beauty of it and felt at peace.
Bell dropped into gateway station and set the ship down so softly that Deckard didn’t even know they were stationary. They both unstrapped and moved down to the hold to greet the 27th. They stood in the doorway as the portal slid apart and the 27th stood in line waiting to board. The pilots moved off the hold to let the troops by. Bell moved out to greet Sarge and Chen, now Corporal Chen and rumor was he would be promoted up to Sergeant himself in a few months. She hugged them and they slapped each other on the shoulders and exchanged insults and expletives for a moment before both men came over and shook Deckard’s hand and went on for too long about how grateful they were that he had come back in for them back on T2. Mention of the planet made things more somber for a brief time, but soon they were all laughing again.
The new brass stepped forward to greet the pilots. Major Floyd McDougal was a big man, maybe six foot six and 270, he had the look of a stereotypical marine with a square jaw and forearms the size hams.
Bell and Deckard both saluted. And the Major returned it with aplomb.
“Commander Knyghte. Warrant Officer Romanov. I’m Major McDougal, CO of the 27th. It’s a pleasure to meet you both.” He had a grip like a vice, but he had control of it. Deckard had no doubt the man could have crushed every bone in his hand if he’d had a mind too.
Bell thanked him, Deckard wasn’t sure why.
“The pleasure is ours, Major.” Deckard replied with a small smile, “Sir, if you will excuse us, we need to get the ship moving.”
The Major dismissed them with salutes and the pilots headed back to the flight deck leaving Sarge to bolt up the hold doors.
Deckard and Bell strapped in and she fired up the engines, commenting on them being so much quieter.
She keyed the ships internal comms, ‘I have a green light from the hold, prepare for liftoff.”
“Control this is dropship 47449, requesting clearance and vector for a hard burn extraction. Over.” Deckard toned in.
“47449 this is control, you have clearance on vector 2859 mark 17.8. Have a safe one and bring them home safely. Control out.”
Deckard settled back and watched as Bell pushed out from their landing and lifted the Egret’s nose skyward. He relaxed and let the G’s wash over him, lulling him into light sleep.