Test Pilot

By Colin Walsh

The deck of the transport lurched violently as it exited the starbridge conduit, the hull of the ship groaning as if to protest the flagrant disregard of the laws of physics that it was just forced to endure.

The pilot shouted back into the passenger area "you know, if you ask me, they should be performing trials to replace these damn Ravens. I swear one of these days the hull is going to fly apart after one of these jumps!"

Pre-occupied, Commander Morgan finally realized that she was the only passenger and the pilot was addressing her. She replied somewhat distractedly "I'm sure they're planning on replacing them sooner rather than later Lieutenant, but if you saw the kind of crap we had to deal with in the outer colonies I'm sure you'd agree that we need these fighters now."

"I suppose so... anyway we'll be arriving at the rendezvous point in about... 10 minutes. Hold on tight, I'm bringing her up to full burn. I hope for our sake an engine doesn't come loose!"

"Hilarious. You should probably stick to flying, I don't think a career in comedy suits you."

"No ma'am, I suppose you're right."

As the four engines, designed for heavy lifting, flared to life they kicked the still protesting and lightly loaded Raven forward at an incredible rate.

Pressed into her acceleration harness, Morgan shouted "Maybe you're right about this thing!"

"See, this is what I'm saying. I go out on a supply run and half the time I feel like I'm going into combat! Anyway, enough about this heap. I bet you must be pretty excited to be getting to try out all those new fighters, hey?"

"I suppose. I mean, it's no front-line patrol in the outers but I guess I'm just glad I can keep flying."

"How do you mean?"

"Hah, I guess you wouldn't know, probably don't care to know, but let's just say that my previous commanding officer transferred me to this gig along along with the comment: 'Her piloting ability far exceeds her ability to get herself kicked out of the fleet.'"

The pilot stifled a laugh. "Well, I guess there is some truth to what they say about red heads."

"Don't push your luck, Lieutenant." Morgan replied flatly.

"Flying this thing? I'd never dream of it!"

"Damn don't start complaining about that again. Let's switch subjects. How about you tell me more about the Red Nova? It'd be nice to know some more about the ship I'm being stationed on. We don't always get the latest intel out in the boonies."

"Not much beyond what you probably already know. The Nova's a Trafalgar class deep range carrier, twenty years in service. For the last five she's been assigned to the Special Projects arm of the fleet... don't tell anyone I said this, but I hear rumors she's not a stock Trafalgar anymore because of that very reason."

"Save the idle speculation, what more can you tell me about the ship? Do you know much about the Commodore?"

"Like I was saying, I don't know much about the ship beyond my pay grade. Now the CO, Commodore Dixon, I can tell you about. On all accounts he's a good man. A veteran, some might say a relic, of the Storyteller War, but he's a fair man and a good commanding officer. Almost makes me wish I was being stationed on the Nova with you to be honest."

"Well, hopefully he can put up with my 'attitude problems'." Morgan punctuated the last words with air quotes. "I'm sure I'll find out soon enough what the limits of his fairness are..."

Whether he didn't want to further push his luck, or just didn't have anything else to say, the pilot finished the flight in silence and Morgan didn't feel the need to interrupt this brief peace so she sat there and focused on the sound of the superstructure fighting against the force of the engines.

She mused briefly that the only thing in the universe that understood how she felt right now was this Raven. She laughed to herself at the thought that this creaky old transport could be a kindred spirit.

Cutting short her bemused reflection, the pilot piped up. "We're here ma'am. The ECS Red Nova."

A hulking shape came into the light from around the dark side of the planetoid that they were approaching. The Red Nova was a gargantuan ship when she was first launched, the next biggest thing in the sky were the Expeditionary Force Titans, but nothing was as big as a Titan, not even the ships that have come since the time the Nova was commissioned.

"A bit smaller than I was expecting..."

"Well, you know, it's not the size..."

"Finish that sentence and you will find yourself rendered physically unfit to fly and I'll be left having to land this thing."

The pilot sank into his seat without another word and completed all of his pre-landing checks, taking extra care not to further upset his passenger.


Captain Ramsay was overseeing the chaos unfolding on the landing deck of the Red Nova. His landing deck. He was not pleased, but he had to put up with the non-military personnel scurrying around underfoot. They were the representatives of the various companies vying to replace the Fleet's current but aging front-line fighter, the Starhawk.

Ramsay was excited at the prospect of testing a number of new fighters, but what didn't excite him was the thought of dealing with a bunch of greedy corporate suits and pencil-pushing engineering teams.

His train of thought was derailed by the voice of the Air Officer announcing an arriving transport over the PA. "Raven gamma-four-eight-charlie, inbound and cleared for landing on the deck! Clear the fore landing deck! I repeat, clear the fore landing deck!"

"Speaking of things I'm unexcited about..." Ramsay muttered to himself as he watched the Raven land with an unceremonious dull thud.

The Raven hadn't even come to rest when Morgan had grabbed her bag and was ducking out through the hatch in the back.

"Commander Morgan?" Ramsay asked in a curt tone.

Morgan turned to face her questioner, her eyes narrowing. "Yes, and you must be the pain in my backside."

"Listen Commander, as much as I appreciate candour from my officers, you can stow that insubordinate crap right now!"

At that, the landing bay went silent as people strained to hear the impending chewing out Ramsay was about to deliver.

"I'm sure you've seen my record Captain. I'm pretty much constructed out of pure insubordination, I'm not even sure why the ECF still puts up with me."

Ramsay sneered at her. "Listen Commander, you and I both know why you aren't rotting in a brig on that backwater snowball you came from. You're the best damn pilot in the fleet and despite your charming personality problems, you actually do your job when you get in the cockpit."

"I'm glad you got the memo." Morgan said with a half-smile.

"That being said, the Red Nova is not an outpost in the Outer Colonies and I expect a little bit of respect from my officers. You're almost a thousand light-years from home so don't expect to run crying to mommy and dadd..."

Ramsay had just finished uttering the first syllable when Morgan's fist shot out and connected with his jaw on the second. The unexpected blow caused him to fall to the deck clutching his face.

Morgan's voice was a low growl, almost feral. "Don't you, ever, mention him again in my presence, I can’t promise I won't break your jaw the next time if you do." she paused, took a breath and almost apologetically offered "If you don’t, I might even come to show you a tiny bit of respect on occasion."

Rubbing his jaw Ramsay fought back the urge to laugh at the situation he found himself in. "Listen Jules, you might be made out of insubordination, and you might be coated in teflon, but your flying better be more than all it's cracked up to be or so help me I'll pull in every last favor I am owed in this fleet and you will find yourself piloting a desk for the rest of your career."

"You're still an expert at pushing my buttons, you know that?"

Ramsay broke into a huge grin. "I'll take that as a compliment. Listen, we jump core-ward towards the Spica Proving Grounds in the morning. It'll take a week or so to reach it, but I'll fill you in on all of the fighters we're testing in the meantime."

"I look forward to it, I guess. I'll just show myself to my quarters, I know how a map works."

"Fair enough, pilot briefing on the experimental birds is at oh-seven-hundred hours."

As Morgan walked off towards the lifts, Ramsay glared at everyone who had stopped to gawk. They quickly shied away and went back to their business.

Behind him came a familiar weathered voice, filled with perceptible delight at Ramsay's altercation "You know Captain, I still can't figure out why you didn't marry her."

Rubbing his jaw again, Ramsay wistfully replied "I tried sir, but she was even more stubborn back then."

The Commodore boomed with laughter, "Well then, now you've got me wondering how you're still alive!"

"Very funny sir, though ironically I'm sure she's saved my bacon more than once."

Ramsay paused for a moment before taking a more serious tone "sir, while I have you here, I've been hearing rumors of strange sightings out past the core-ward outposts. You and I both know it's not the Storytellers. Do you think it's anything we should be concerned about?"

Dixon seemed lost in thought briefly. "Probably not, at least not yet anyway. Let's just hope that if it *is* a first contact situation," he paused for a moment to rub the large purple scar running along the side of his face "that it doesn't play out like it did the last time."

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