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Chapter 24 - Victory
To her relief, she felt him breathing when she rested her hand on his back. The outside world could have her attention now. She fired off calls through her nerve-ware to various channels. Nobody responded to short-range, long-range, or even the Meta-space communicator. She had to assume the ship's comm no longer functioned either. Her mask communicator would still function, but she was too far from a base tower out here. The only one who would hear her was Poe. Her top priority now became getting away from the Banshee before the mass converter fried.
That proved to be a problem in itself. The canopy wouldn't open, although whatever blocked it lurked unseen beyond the shadows. She let go of the useless latch mechanism with a quiet curse word.
"Keep your head down," she said to the presumed unconscious Poe. She hunkered down and yanked the yellow lanyard ring that would blow the explosive bolts of the canopy frame. A blast and a shudder later, she kicked the tangled wreckage of the canopy out of her way.
She waved her foot in the darkness, trying to find the Lunar soil. During a wider swing, her foot connected with the boulder that had pinned her canopy closed. It turned out to be a perfect place to kneel and pull out the survival pack. She laid down and peered out from below the ship to see sunlit ground a few feet away. They'd ended up in the shade near the wall of a small crater. The drop would only be a yard or so; she'd been within inches of touching ground with her foot on her first try. Poe's longer legs would have found it.
She tossed the pack out into the sunlight and returned inside to get Poe.
"You'll have to kill yourself some other time, Cadet. We're getting out of here."
It took her several minutes in the tight space just to confirm the power pack for his breather functioned. She switched it over to battery power. It would run for an hour or so before she needed to hook him up to the survival pack's recharger.
Poe had folded his big body tight to fit into the 'back seat'. As an unconscious mass of flopping limbs, it was a lot more work for her to get him out than for him to get in.
She managed it, somehow. They tumbled together to the ground once his feet came free.
Even though objects were 'lighter' in Lunar gravity, they still had the same mass. If they connected with something at a given speed, they connected as hard as on Earth at that speed. She saw stars when she struck the ground with Poe on top of her. Her shoulder would be feeling the impact for at least a week.
Shaking her head, she crawled out from beneath him. Trying to carry him proved too difficult to do without losing her balance. She dragged him, adding the survival pack to her load as she passed it. Nothing in the crater floor offered a good blast shadow if the Banshee blew. Searching for an outcrop in the crater wall was also a chore with only reflected sunlight from the soil in the distance.
Morbid curiosity drove her to investigate the ruined fighter as she trudged along. The dim lighting and shadows only gave hints to the damage, but she was able to see enough to know it had made its last landing.
By the time they arrived in a sheltered spot, she was desperate to rest, but she couldn't, just yet. Protected only by their thermies, the cold ground would freeze them. They needed the extra barrier of the thermal blanket from the pack. She spread it out, rolled Poe onto it, then went to work on the last few necessities.
Her own beacon had been running since the ejection set it off. She made sure that his was running as well, then she hooked both their breathers to the survival pack battery. At last free to take a break, she joined him, snuggling up against his side because the blanket wasn't intended for two.
Poe would be fine, she decided. He might even get a medal for what he'd just done. Herself, not so much. She'd never lost a ship, but now she'd destroyed two on a boneheaded move during a training exercise. Not a career advancing maneuver, she suspected.
"You know, you're the second winger I've dragged out of a cockpit this year," she told the silent trainee, remembering retrieving the body of her winger after a deep space battle. "It's starting to get old."
"Muh," Vampire answered.
Encouraged, she shook him and he roused a bit more.
"Hell if I know. You do have to work harder on your landings."
After a long pause, he mumbled. "...think that was your landing...?"
"O-o-oh, no! You can't prove nothin'! Your ship, your landing!"
He dragged in a breath, audible through the comm, then humphed. "What shape is your ship in?"
She broke out in a tension-releasing laugh. Her trusty attacker variant lay in a million pieces distributed across several square kilometers. What a crappy way to treat the Banshee she'd flown for two years and over a hundred missions.
She caught her breath again, then repositioned herself to rest her head on his shoulder. He would understand it was a matter of necessity. There just wasn't room for personal space on the blanket.
"Yeah. I guess we're both gonna need new rides now. Yours is still good for spare parts though, if the reactor doesn't fry. Nothing so far, but keep your head down, 'kay?"
He didn't answer. After a while, she felt driven to make more conversation. She still owed him a Thank-You, but she wasn't ready to do that, yet.
Three years in the cockpit made for unbreakable habits. Nothing could stop the battle analysis from running in the back of her mind. Only this time, it was Poe's rescue that she analyzed.
"Huh. Not psychic, my butt. You were flying Tony's plan before he gave it to you."
"I was flying my own plan. I switched over to Tony's."
"B.S., Cadet. First the Wraith and now this. It's too much coincidence. You're a Sensitive. Trying to keep the brass from finding out?"
After another dark glance at her, he sighed. "The brass already know all about it."
"Meaning there is an 'it'."
A slow nod, a dour pull of the lip, and then Vampire looked away. "You know about my implant problems. The docs did all they could for me, but I was still stuck doped up on painkillers 24/7. That's when some Zindavoors showed up to see me."
"What, Zindavoor doctors?" Was there such a thing? They were great at any technical skill Humans or aliens taught them, but they had been spear-carrying primitives on their own world. They had no scientific foundation of their own.
She puzzled over that. "What could alien shamans do for a human?"
"They could feel my pain. Which I mean in the literal sense. They trained me how to not broadcast it."
"Hah? What good does that do you?"
"Humans have some kind of feedback thing. Seems if we aren't broadcasting our pain, we're able to shut it out. Not letting it into our awareness and not broadcasting it are the same thing or something."
"That's the best they could do for you?"
His eyes closed. "Yeah. But it was enough to get me out of the hospital."
"Well, it's more than human doctors could do for me. And it allows me to stay off the painkillers, most of the time. It comes with a bonus though. The moment some psychic attack like a Wraith hits me, it disrupts the block and the pain comes back. I know about them before I can even see them. All that practice at blocking pain makes me crazy strong at blocking mind attacks too, somehow."
"That doesn't explain today."
He sighed, then gave a hoarse chuckle. "That wasn't psychic either. Any minimum-time interception path would have been roughly the same trajectory, regardless of the plan after the merge. You would have realized that already if you hadn't convinced yourself I was psychic."
She had no answer for that. He had a point.
They remained silent for a time, until her mind finally settled on a new subject. "So, I wonder... do they count off for not bringing your ship back? In the contest, I mean. I have no idea if they have a rule about that."
He snorted. "You care? It still matters to you who won?"
She studied him for a few breaths, wondering how a pilot could fight so competitively in a simulated battle and care so little about the score. The way his eyes had reacted to her question bothered her.
"Yeah. I want to know who won. What's wrong with that?"
His eyes closed again, and it occurred to her he wasn't blocking all that pain right now. Without the seat and webbing, the landing had banged him up worse than her. Dragging him across the ground couldn't have helped either. She hoped the damage didn't include the shoulder she was borrowing.
Well, he hasn't complained yet.
"You're alive," he declared after a long silence. He opened his eyes, looked into hers. "You win."
This chapter was a little delayed. I apologize for that. The reason is that I have chosen to move the home of "Tales of the ESDF" to another host. I will not be removing any chapters here, but no further chapters will be posted on Scribblehub. You can find the new home of "Tales" at this link and you can go directly to the next chapter of "Tales" here.
The reason isn't any particular gripe against SH; I just feel buried and invisible here, and much better supported at the other location. I've had much better luck getting exposure for my other current novel over there. (Find a link to it there. I won't post the link to it here, cuz I feel it's a little cringey to do that. This story is different, since I've posted part of it here and just telling you where you can find the rest.)
The next chapter after this begins the next story, which gives a glimpse of life back home on Earth from a unique point of view. It features new characters, but the cast of "Moon Duty" will return in more stories to come later, because I consider them the core cast of the series.
Hope you continue reading! Thanks for sticking with me this far!