Stories Hub / Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Starlight Gleaming Ch. 10

Starlight Gleaming Ch. 10

by TJSkywind 01/25/15

Thanks to my reader, gyfurune, who helps catch the errors. I have been remiss in giving him credit for his help. I freely admit that any mistakes that slip through are my fault.


I flipped on the power switch and the ChoCac hummed to life. I left the Naval hospital where my new Aide kept watch over his wife, and passed through the gate that lead back to the Ground and Air Service part of High Guard War base.

I had been driving to the hangar, but found myself in the parking lot of the Commissary.

Janetta was likely still in one of the many jets that circled and roared in the evening skies above us. Her crew were at the hangar, prepping for her return. We'd had dinner, but Cholan and Ixma had lost theirs after witnessing the horror at the Dispensary. Something light to supplement the crackers, I thought.

Fruit smoothies sounded perfect. Cold, sweet, and light. It was summer. The smoothies wouldn't keep very long in this heat. On a hunch, I called Zinja.


"Zinja, do you have a fridge there, for storing food and cold drinks?"

"Are you kidding, sir? We have the cold storage chest we brought from home with our food in it. When we got our hangar, the only thing the previous crew left behind was some battered office furniture, a full allotment of cobwebs, a dead mouse, and droppings from the hundred cousins that moved out at the last minute. And it's a battle to keep them and the snakes from coming back."

I chuckled. "Thank you. I'll be there soon."

Going inside the Commissary, I bought a full-sized fridge, a new office chair for Janetta, a dozen cases of bottled water, a half-dozen cases of beer, as well as several cases of mixed fruit drinks fortified with vitamins and electrolytes. Dropping down the back seats, the fridge fit nicely in the back. The extra liquid supplies packed in neatly alongside the new appliance. The new chair came apart and fit in the front passenger seat. Fortunately, I remembered my original quest. Five large fruit smoothie drinks sat beside me as I drove to the hangar.

Once there, I consulted with Zinja on the best place for the fridge to reside. Against the back wall of the hangar were three smaller bays. Janetta's enclosed office occupied one bay, the lockers and open shower were in the middle, and the tool bay was the third. There was a power socket and space right next to the lockers, and it would be hidden by the lockers when the main bay doors were open, so it was less likely to attract poachers.

Zinja put together the chair with a grin and rolled it into the office. I backed the car into the bay. Between the four of us, the fridge and supplies were stacked next to it. Cholan and Ixma quickly loaded the fridge while I parked my vehicle behind Janetta's HueCac beside the hangar.

Ixma had been tasked with scrubbing the bay floor with cleaners, and she returned to it after the fridge was loaded. But she kept pausing to look at me. Zinja was in the tool bay, listening to chatter from the control tower while she cleaned her tools. Finally, Zinja told her to take a break.

Down went the broom and Ixma was in my arms, burying her face into my chest. For several minutes, I just held her.

"You're okay," I said at last. "Had I known what was going to happen, I wouldn't have let you come. Not you, not Cholan, not even Zinja. As awful as it was, you were not injured, and the men who tried to hurt you and Cholan are dead. Your mother is beautiful, brave, wise, and strong, and you are your mother's daughter, are you not?"

Ixma looked up, her blue eyes wet. Then she smiled. "Yes, sir."

"Are you going to be all right?"

"All of you take good care of me. Having you for my man means everything, sir. I feel grown up and real, like I mean something. Being in your arms, knowing you care for me is the best feeling in all the world. Kiss me, please."

So I did. Twice, which made her sigh. Then she patted my chest. "I'm better now."

Pushing away, she wiped her eyes, collected her smoothie from the fridge, and took a long drink before resuming her work.

I caught Zinja watching me. She gave me an approving nod.

Cholan, for her part, dug into her shopping bags. Zinja warned her to pay attention to the time, as Janetta's Combat Air Patrol would last another hour, tops. Cholan needed to be on the tarmac when she landed, ready to hook up Janetta's aircraft and bring her back to the hangar. She quickly dispensed with the wrappings and put together her laptop accessories. She even finished installing one of her new programs before she put it away, her face full of geek joy.

It was bright with electric lights and full of mechanical things inside the hangar. Outside, it was fully nighttime. As Cholan climbed onto the tractor, I said, "Let me ride along with you. I want to watch her come in. I promise I won't get in the way."

She glanced at Zinja who waved us off, then grinned in delight. "You'll have to stand behind me. There's no handholds, but you can put your hands on my shoulders. Climb aboard, Lieutenant."

We joined a small convoy of tractors, all heading out to the runway, headlights adding to the bright lights of the airfield. The last of the night patrol was finally airborne and streaking away, their afterburners kicking in as the Lightning interceptors zoomed away into the night. Then the overflight watch began to land. We passed the row of hangars in front of us and suddenly we were on the airfield, skirting the edge and making for the end of the runway.

As we reached the waiting area, Janetta's AT-7 touched down, braked, and rolled slowly over to us. Then the engines of the Lightning cut out.

Janetta rolled back the cockpit hatch, lifted her visor, and exclaimed, "What are you doing out here, Ranji?"

I hopped off the tractor, bowed, and said, "Cholan's Towing Service, Lieutenant! Check your tires? Clean your windshield?"

Janetta laughed, dropping her helmet onto the floor of her cockpit. "What a loon! All right, hook me up, Cholan. Try not to run over my boy toy, will you?" Then she turned on her dome light, propped her flight logbook onto her knees, and began to write.

Cholan saluted as she snickered. "Don't run over Boy Toy. Yes, sir."

The Tow Tractor isn't fast, but it is strong enough to haul thirty-five tons of aircraft. Around the tractor is a circular frame that serves as a track for the hook used to haul the aircraft. Using a control switch, Cholan rotated the hook around to the front of the tractor, then edged the tractor forward to the landing gear strut and cleanly locked it into place. Then she got off and secured the connection with an S-pin with a safety latch. Back in her seat, she locked the frame and clamps dropped into place. Then she rotated the tractor one-hundred-eighty degrees in position.

"Best get on, Lieutenant. See those three tanker trucks down the field? We're going to top off the fuel tanks and the water reservoir before we head back to the hangar. That way, we're prepped for the next flight in five hours."

I clambered back on, hands on her shoulders to steady myself while she drove. "Water reservoir?"

Cholan nodded. "When the Lieutenant hits the afterburner, water is injected into the air stream, faking the fuel sensor so it believes the air is denser than it is. More fuel is added to the mix to maintain airspeed. It also adds to the fuel mass, and both combine to give it more thrust for the amount of fuel expended. Zinja knows how it all works a lot better than me, though. If you want the details, she can give you good, solid instruction."

I patted her shoulders. "You did just fine."

When the refueling was done, a corporal pulled up some stairs, climbed up to the cockpit where Janetta signed off on the fuel record, and he signed on her logbook, noting the number of the fuel slip. Then we headed back to the hangar.

I got off while Cholan parked the jet. Zinja directed it from the back. Once the jet was inside the hangar, Ixma brought up the step ladder and secured it for Janetta to climb down. Since Janetta was going back out in four hours, they left the Lightning hooked up to the tractor.

Ixma placed the chocks around the tires. Janetta gave the logbook to Cholan, who scanned it for any notes on servicing needed. Removing the ladder, Zinja replaced it with the portable work platform, lining it up beside the front fuselage. Once it was in place, Cholan hauled the data cable from the diagnostic computer to the data port behind a panel. Zinja did a safety check of the landing gear, followed by a visual on the fuselage. Cholan opened the avionics and control panels, hooking up sensors to the large diagnostic computer on wheels. A well practiced team, they operated smoothly and efficiently, each moving to the next task in concert with the other two.

Janetta contented herself with giving me a long hug, smiling as she buried her face in my chest. After several minutes of indulging, she pushed away. "I've got work to do."

Ixma brought Janetta the smoothie from the fridge, then moved to help Cholan, giving a readout of the initial findings.

Surprised by the cold drink, Janetta asked how it was still cold. Zinja told her about the new fridge.

Pointing at me, Janetta said, "You, with me. Now." Turning around, she ducked under the wing and strode to her office.

I closed the door. She saw the new chair and stopped in her tracks. She sat down slowly. Sighed as her weight sank down.

"My ass thanks you, Ranji. I'm afraid you are stuck with that sorry excuse to sit on. The fridge is also quite welcome. I see how things are going to go. I'm the mean officer and you are the nice one. I can do Queen Bitch. At least between us, we'll get their minds off tonight."

"You don't fool them, you know. Even when you yell at them, they know you will do everything you can to protect them, and they love you for it."

"Maybe so, but it works for us. Now spill it, Kandikan. You fucked that cold bitch, didn't you. Tell me, and I want to hear it all." She didn't look angry, just focused.

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