Chapter 12 - Trouble
Kahuna kept half his attention on Chiquita's course as he veered away from the simulated debris cloud. He tried not to be overprotective of her the way the girls in the 77th were, but he almost couldn't help it. She had even less business flying in the Semifinals than Vampire. Worse, simulated Slave fighters had split them up in the first seconds after contact. She'd been on her own ever since.
Their opponents had already flown. Neither the swaggering college student called 'Rodeo' nor his pretty winger 'Pico' had lasted the round. Their score included several kills, but they earned no survival bonus. Ana had a real chance to go to the final round instead of them.
His full attention snapped to the present as the tracks on his screen added up. Two plots, the two remaining groups of Slaves, would merge on Ana from different directions. She'd wandered right between them at some point. Did she recognize it yet? Based on the way Chiquita kept flying the same direction, no. His mental math skills kicked into high gear. He had seven seconds to take on one group or the other.
"Bandits on your eight low!" He skewed sideways for the vector that would carry him into the other attackers. The burn and the message took two seconds. Five left.
She flipped around, knuckle-balling backwards in high-gee mode. He opened fire on his target; she dropped Moon-ward. At four seconds, he altered course. Her maneuver wouldn't shake the two craft he'd chosen to leave alone. He'd have to risk leaving his original three to her.
Three seconds. He had no idea what these guys might be. The computer analysis showed an identifying number rather than a species. They were from somewhere distant enough, Humans had not assigned a name for it yet.
His projectors overcame one alien shield, shredding that craft in a hellish neutron hail.
At two seconds, he trained on the other while it was still trying to turn onto him. By one second, he'd punched it four times, then jinked out of its return fire and flipped for braking burn as they passed each other.
Ana ought to have been coming up from below to take on the trio he'd abandoned by this time. He should be able to ignore the rad warnings on his board as he punched again. The aliens would break away from him now to focus on their new attacker.
He finished the second simulated Slave and tried to jink out of the incoming fire from the other group. Where the heck was his winger?
Then he cursed as he heard the kill buzzer. His kill buzzer...
# # #
"What did that poor juice cup ever do to you?"
Rissa glanced up at Amanda, taking a seat next to her, then back down at the shredded container in her hands.
"I'm beginning to hate Kahuna," she declared, and the other Senior Aviator chuckled.
"I had the impression you were never that fond of him in the first place." She cut her spaghetti into precise bite-sized sections, then scooped one up.
Rissa's first round shook her, but she'd thought she was over it until she watched her normal trainee fumble into victory. Now she'd fallen into a new funk. It wasn't Ana's latest flight she kept returning to, though. She was back to her own first round.
What had set her off? She should be happy for Ana. She should be happy as well to still be in it herself. And she needed to concentrate on making sure Tony didn't outshine her. He now threatened to do so if she didn't win her next match to keep up with him.
Instead, she just wanted out. The sooner the better.
It was insanity that a noob like Ana had made it to the Finals. Maybe more insane was the way Tony's lecture had galled Rissa. He'd put himself into danger for the girl, but it would have been a minor risk if not for his timid winger. Instead, he'd paid for helping her. After the round, he stood over her, making her analyze the flight record again and again. She rehashed and reviewed so many times she would be reliving it in her dreams.
Rissa's mentor would have done the same for her, back in her own FC days. She would have handled it the same way with Ana. One made certain the error never repeated itself during a fight with real bullets. Somehow though, Kahuna's voice giving the same lecture irritated her.
In her defense, Ana and Tony would go to the final round because of her survival bonus. The girl had stayed untouched for the rest of their flight. Tony's kills alone wouldn't have done it. But Rissa knew that wasn't the point.
"The reason Elimination sucks," Amanda observed, "is that you don't face your real opponent. You can only control half of the battle."
"And your point is?"
"That's the weirdness that is Moon Duty. It isn't designed to see who's better at killing fellow ESDF pilots. They want us to adapt and overcome, be more survivable against a wide variety of aliens. She did it. Ana survived. Whatever you're hacked off about, and I have no clue what that is, you need to accept that my little sister is going to the Finals. You need to focus on your own flight tomorrow."
Rissa closed her eyes and willed herself to stay calm. "It's got nothing to do with your sister."
"That so? Looked to me like her flight was what pissed you off."
"Dumb luck saved her once again," Rissa concluded. She dug her fork into her own spaghetti. "That, and insane evasion skills. I'm used to it."
"Then what has my pretty Rissa so vexed? Spit it out before it kills you, girl."
She looked across the cafeteria to where Poe and Ang were dining. Seeing Poe again, she finally understood what made her angry. "Kahuna gets to fly with a normal, sane winger. What do I get to fly with?"
"Is this a riddle? I give up. Tell me."
She glared, put down the fork, grabbed her tray and stood up, almost losing the remains of her dinner in the low gravity.
"No. I think I should tell Carter, instead."