33: Moon Duty Chapter 23
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Chapter 23 - Landing

Tony allowed himself the tiniest of moments to be awestruck at the sheer madness of Poe's plan. Until he heard it, he'd been ready to give credit to the girls' belief that Poe was psychic and had read his mind. Instead, the FC had a plan even more audacious than his own. Of course, since his ship would be on the bottom, the big guy's chances for survival were much lower than Rissa's, but Poe already knew that.

Rissa was close to incoherence. "Order him to forget it and get away!"

Pucelli concurred, speaking over a secondary ground channel. "You are going to order him off?"

The extra chatter had him sweating over the clock now. Time was running out. He answered on the same channel. "I would if I could, sir, but he is going to do what he just proposed unless I give him a better plan. Please back me up, sir, because I think there's only one way we get them both out alive."

"We can eject him."

"On his current vector and attitude, you would be committing murder, sir." An ejection would have driven Vampire straight into the ground.

He flipped back over to the first channel. "Listen up, Cadet. I've got a better plan, but you're going to have to fly my numbers exactly. We're almost out of time. I'm sending them now. Cat Girl!"

"What the hell are you thinking? Order him off!"

"I'm sending numbers up to you. It's ejection time. You punch out exactly on my mark and Vampire catches you." As he spoke, Vampire corkscrewed around her vector to line up above her cockpit instead of beneath her belly. The cadet was fast approaching the mark.

"Have you gone mad? No way! I will not!"

The acid in his stomach began to burn as he watched the time vanishing.

He went back to Pucelli. "Give me her punch-out code, now!"

"I can't allow this, Kahuna. You'd be killing both of them."

"They are already both dead unless you give me that code!"

The pause that followed seemed to stretch out forever... but then the code streamed in.

He flipped back to the pilots. "Vampire! Your lead is unresponsive! I'm doing a remote punch. Be ready on your intercept vectors."

"'Unresponsive'?" Cat Girl echoed, indignant.

"She must be unconscious. You should be receiving my sync clock now."

In the middle of his speech, she began trying to shout over him, but Base Comm dialed her volume down before he could hear what she was saying. Vampire finished jockeying his craft into place as the moment approached.

"Seven-seven-nine, aye aye. I'm in the slot."

With clear air, Rissa's voice became audible again. She had ratcheted up to a point somewhere between fury and apoplexy.

"... it this instant! Kahuna! Who the hell do you think..."

He couldn't help but grin as the punch-out code streamed out to her ship.

# # #

Rissa cut off mid-sentence as explosive bolts blew her canopy away. Multiple tons of thrust struck her couch from below like Goliath's fist. The burn lasted less than half a second, just long enough to empty her lungs as the demonic acceleration crushed her.

She gasped the air she'd pushed into her breather mask back in after the separation charge kicked her free of the couch. If she were in an atmosphere, the pack now strapped to her back, once part of her seat back, would open up as a parachute. Without air resistance it remained a useless backpack. She undid the clasps on the webbing, figuring she'd need to shed the unneeded burden.

She looked up ahead to see a Banshee rushing toward her, top first rather than nose first. The canopy was open and Poe was standing with arms stretched wide behind the flight couch, about to catch her. Why is he behind the couch? was all she had time to wonder.

Then she hit, but with much less force than she'd expected. She realized as she arrived that he must have actually been working the vector to have his craft moving away from hers as she arrived. He grabbed her, freed her from the chute pack still entangling her arms and inverted her. Before she had a chance to ask what he was doing, he'd planted her butt into his control couch and demanded, "Take the controls!"

His hands worked from behind her, strapping the webbing of his couch around her. Too shocked to protest, she grabbed the controls while he placed his hands over hers to transfer the flight keys to his craft through their wrist pickups. She brought up the throttle as fast as she dared. He'd mentioned using the bellies along with the main jet and she borrowed his plan now, except backwards. The main fired downward and the bellies sideways, as she aimed to hit bottom at the greatest angle she could manage.

Through the comm, she heard the breath whuffing out of his lungs as the gees hit him and he collided with the back of the luggage space behind the couch. The so-called 'back seat' of a Banshee was for bags and provisions on extended missions. It wasn't actually designed for passengers.

Kahuna never intended for Poe to fold his big frame back there, either. Rissa and her much smaller body would have fit much more easily in there. Poe had added this variation on his own. He'd climbed back there while controlling his craft by nerve-ware during the intercept. She cringed as she cycled the jet up farther, knowing what kind of torture she was putting him through.

She couldn't compensate with him back there, so she couldn't high-gee. Would max standard-mode thrust be enough in the time left? Poe had decided she needed to be the one at the controls. He was counting on her giving them better odds.

"Vampire," she hissed as the jet blazed, the alarms multiplied and the Lunar landscape rapidly grew larger behind her. "You idiot!"

# # #

The madness began, continued and expanded. The gouts of moon dust blasted by the approaching jet gave way to the first thunderclap of the Banshee's tail hitting. Rolling confusion spun outside the canopy. A glimpse of a crater ridge in the distance, then she lost all track in the cataclysmic nightmare.

# # #

Her vision cleared, but she didn't trust her senses. She saw neither sky nor moon outside her canopy, so she couldn't be in flight, but she seemed to be thrusting sideways and downward. Then her mind made the shift into ground mode and grasped that the Banshee was inverted and on the surface. It wasn't sitting on its tail as intended by its makers. She hung shoulder-down from her harness, with the seat and the back of her couch above her. The cockpit had survived, but the systems no longer functioned. The instruments in front of her showed nothing sensible. More than likely the electronics would soon run out of battery power and die.

"Vampire?"

Her heart turned cold when he didn't answer. She released her webbing and slid her way out of her seat so that she could turn to see him.

Not enough light reached from her instrument panel into the back space. Through her nerve-ware, she switched on the utility light, acting out of habit before she had a chance to wonder if it would work.

All she could see of Poe was the top of his helmet and the vague outline of his back in the shadows beyond. He slumped against the back of her couch, chin tucked into his chest. Nothing appeared damaged. Freeze-up, the pilot's last resort, would activate with an otherwise fatal blow, or if his breather failed. Since he appeared whole, that upped his chances.

Of course, if he's in freeze-up, he'll be a bastard to pull out from back there.

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