Lifting Me Up
March 7, 2937
“There is no reason to be anxious”, she whispered to herself for the 27th time. Taking hold of a six billion UEC troop transport and guiding it out into the black and down through a flaming atmosphere into one of the hottest battle lines in the war. She raised her hand to push back her fiery, red hair, but her fingers met with nothing. They had cropped her hair back, too short, yesterday and she hadn’t come to terms with the new length of it yet. Her eyes fixed solidly on the corridor ahead, she noted that the air was cool and the recycling system was blowing into her back. All the same, she sweated and felt like she was descending through the atmosphere without a ship. She shivered as a trickle of sweat rolled down her spine.
Her mind idled back to the previous day when Captain Mills told her, “You will be training with one of our best, Bell. He is a long time vet, and has been training some of our best dropship pilots for the past few years. You are in good hands.”All she actually wanted was to be a ground pounder, a grunt; but they caught on to her flight training as a civ two years ago, said she had a talent for it. She would get some ground action while she trained they said, but there was a responsibility to handling a drop ship that she didn’t particularly want.
Her bunkmates had not been pleased to hear that she was going into flight training. She went from being just another grunt that was off of everyone’s radar, to being the Captains pet, the spoiled brat, and things far worse and far more explicit which she chose to outright forget.
She entered the cockpit, a two-seater like all dropships; the pilot sat in the left chair and all she could see of him was his olive green flight helmet. He flicked through switches, tapped out alterations to the ships control pads, and looked over the Glas consoles checking readouts.
“Take a seat, Háizi.” He said without looking up, his voice was calm and distant.
“Warrant Officer Bellisaria Romanov reporting for…”
Bell took her place in the right-hand control seat. The seat was hard and rigid, very little padding, but structurally it held her form and was not uncomfortable. She looked over the controls and noted that some of it was familiar, but all in all she would have been in real trouble if they had just thrown her into the seat and told her to fly it. She did not have all that much flight experience, less than two years and only as recreation. She had been out into the black before that, but never further than Mars. Her parents occasionally took the family ship out and went for a “family drive among the stars” on Sunday mornings. She would have seen it as romantic and wonderful except for knowing it for what it was truly was; a chance for her parents to show her sister and her, what they could do if they merely did what they were told and followed in their parent’s footsteps.
The pilot turned his head and looked at her. He wore a face that said he was all business, late thirties, green eyes, clean shaven, and all military. “Put on your helmet, kid.”
“Sir, shouldn’t I give you my name and personal info so you know who I am, Sir?” She respectfully inquired, letting her accent roll of her tongue as she saddled into her helmet.
The comms were ablaze with chatter going out to other drops ships which were taking off and those in orbit waiting for the full contingent so they could begin the burn to their destination.
He turned his head back to her again, “You are Bellisaria Romanov, daughter of Drs. Petrov and Malvina Romanov. Your father is chief surgeon at Moscow’s Central Dormitorium Hospital and your mother is a head of Oncology the UEE State Officials Hospital in Moscow; which doesn’t exist of course. Your sister is Natalya Romanov and is currently studying with private tutors at your parents’ home estate; she intends to go to medical school next year at the age of 16 and is considered a prodigy by those who have money enough not to know better. You left home to join the military as a way of showing disrespect to your parents who have spent their lives trying to force you to be something you do not want to be. They wanted you to save lives; you chose to join the UEE where you can take lives. You turn 18 in three months, and snuck in to the service early to get away from home. The UEE knows by the way, they just don’t care. You are six feet tall, weight 144 lbs., have red hair which used to be shoulder length, golden brown eyes, a birthmark on your left wrist, and believe yourself to be in reasonably good physical condition which you will soon find out is not the case. Did I leave out anything?”
The Captain had looked pale under the greenish light of his office the day before, “We gave him your dossier this morning; I doubt he will have time to read it all. We have him teaching classroom and group piloting when he is not in the field. You are getting some very special treatment by working directly with him. Keep that in mind.”
“Only my flight training, Sir” She said coldly, the Russian accent dripping out as she became mildly flustered by this arrogant Commander’s demeanor.
“I know all about the ‘flight training’ they think you have”, he chuckled, “We know what that’s really worth sitting here now. Don’t we?” He smiled at her, his brow lifting in a knowing look.
She drew in a deep breath, “They say I have a natural aptitude for it,” she said rising up and sitting a bit taller.
“We’ll see soon enough, but we both know these controls are not gonna be like flying daddy’s 300i”
The Commander grabbed the sticks and without taking his eyes off of Bell he hit the VTOL and lifted the ship straight up into the air, “Drop ship 47449, ‘Knyghte’, lifting off. Projected arrival with fleet in t-minus three minutes.”
The comm flared, sputtered and gargled back at them, “Affirmative 47449, estimated departure for Tiber is 16 minutes. Over.”
“Roger that Command, 47449 out.” The commander flipped through the ships nav Glas for a brief moment, “Might wanna take the stick, Háizi, yer flying.” He said and sat back lifting his hands over his helmet and lacing his fingers behind his head. “Wake me when we arrive with the fleet, will ya?”
Sweat beaded on Bell’s forehead almost immediately and began to run down into her face and eyes. She frantically looked over the gauges and panels trying to find the nav site so she could manually fly out of atmo to where the fleet was. She located the nav point, they were off course due to her scramble to find what she needed. She quickly corrected their heading and making sure they had a clear shot and were not going to cross paths with any other ships. She was behind schedule, there was no chance they would arrive when the commander had stated they would. She latched onto the throttle to give them more acceleration.
“Don’t.” The commander never moved his hands remained on his head; he was leaning back, eyes closed.
Bell took her hand off the throttle, noting the sweat on her palm, “But we are behi…”
“The fleet doesn’t leave for at least 14 minutes, we have time. But what we don’t have is excess fuel for you to waste it on a deadline that doesn’t matter.”
“I’m sorry, Sir.” Bell felt the pressure of the cabin starting to close in on her. She was in over her head. It wasn’t even her choice to be here. All the same, she did not want to fail. She wanted to prove she could do this, all of it; being a soldier, being a pilot, whatever was given to her she needed to show them she was independent.
“Don’t need sorry, just need us to get there in one piece.” He shifted to get more comfortable in his seat.
His lackadaisical behavior left her somewhat angry. Whoever he was, he was a poor flight officer and a worse teacher. Maybe he was not even the actual instructor, a stow away perhaps or an agent who had killed the actual pilot. His demeanor was far from official or even professional. Maybe he didn’t even know how to fly this vessel. She would be the only one who could handle it and get it where it needed to go. She ran through possible scenarios in her mind. She had to figure out who this guy was. There was no action she could take until she knew.
“Deckard Knyghte flew with the 107th ‘Charging Destriers’ and was acting CO for over three years. Was part of the force that helped us drive back the Vanduul. Always on the front lines, that one.” Her nose wrinkled at the memory of the Captain taking a slow draw off of a large and rather pungent cigar.
“So, Commander,” her accent drawled out, thicker than before, “How long have you been piloting ships for the UEE?”
“I’m trying to take a nap here, darlin’. Talk to me later.”
“How can you evaluate my flight skills if you are asleep?” she inquired, trying to remain composed.
He sat up in his seat and lowered his hands, “Well if we arrive safely and no one dies, then I know you will be able to handle more advanced training. If anyone dies, or the ship blows up, then it will be self-explanatory. Fair enough?” He settled back into the seat.
“But Commander, wouldn’t it be better to watch what I do, so you can evaluate how well or poorly I do it. After all, you are here to train me aren’t you?” She swallowed hard and wondered if he would notice how nervous she was.
He sat back up in the chair, obviously flustered. Ran his left hand down his face and neck and gave Bell a look of abject deference, “Alright, Háizi, I will watch you fly this ship if it will make you feel less stressed. Frankly you have the controls, you figured out how to read the navs, and you were able to make adjustments to the flight path without ramming anyone. You need some work, but yeah, Command was right, you seem to have a natural ability for this kind of thing. Time will tell me more. For now just get us caught up to the fleet and don’t burn unnecessary fuel doing it.”
Bell turned her head to look at him and found herself staring him straight in the eye. Not comfortable. Whatever his manner, he had that look of a man who knew how to command. She knew in that moment that he was less attentive because there was nothing about this process which he was particularly concerned with. He was vet, he had seen war, maybe he had seen things that would leave her heaving out her lunch; whatever the case, he knew how to pilot.
“I’m sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to disrespect you. I just…”
“You are just scared. It’s a big ship, and expensive, heck of a lot bigger than yer daddy’s 300 ain’t it?” He smirked and the left side of his mouth quirked up mischievously.
“It is a 350, Sir.” She quipped at him, “modified for stealth.”
The commander smiled gave a short chuckle. “O’course it is. Only the best for the rich and powderful.” Deckard stressed the ‘D’ in powder.
“I don’t expect I will ever fly in another one. Those days are behind me.” Bell stated coldly. She meant every word of it. Whatever she had from this day forward, she would earn with her blood and sweat. Tears were not an option; life spins like a wheel, she would let it spin.