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4.

Clay already knew all the rules and regulations and warning labels on flying a Ghost 201. He hadn’t actually flown one until just a few days ago, and those were half under the control of the base trainer computer so the trainees wouldn’t crash into things. But now the training wheels were off. After breakfast, Su Park led her wing pilots down to the side airlock, and in a few seconds they were out on the lunar surface kicking up dust. Four Ghosts sat on the tarmac twenty meters from the airlock, in a little row.

“Cold out,” said Natasha as she headed for the second from left.

“Nice and clear, though,” said Rachel, heading for the second from right. “I think it’s going to be a nice day.”

“Don’t expect much for wind,” said Su Park, reaching the left-most SCEP and patting the hatch open. In a few more seconds, all four were dropping gently into their cushioned seats and pulling their hatches shut.

Inside, in a dim ambient light, Clay flipped on a series of systems. The outside became visible all around him, as if the fighter were all window, which it wasn’t. The dim light vanished, and he sat in the dark with readouts glowing in the midst of the stars and the lunar surface.

The engine hummed: well, both engines did, the hover and the thrust. Life support came up and breathed sweet air on him; it connected to his vac suit, which itself was equipped to channel out all his bodily wastes including bits of skin. Comm came up.

“Hover three meters,” said Park. The four Ghosts, as one, hovered up three meters. She was supposed to say, “Hover on my mark,” and then say “mark,” but they were perfectly well coordinated without all that.

“Diamond formation 1,” said Park, moving her Ghost forward to the point of the diamond. Natasha took the left, Rachel the right, Clay the tail. “You guys good?”

“Good,” they all chimed in.

“Then let’s head for Zone 30.”

“What speed, Commander?” asked Rachel.

“Just keep up.”

And they did, though Su Park’s preferred altitude was about three meters and her preferred speed was two hundred meters per second. The Sea of Serenity was not uniformly flat, and at the speed they were going it was only a few minutes before low mountains loomed ahead of them. Once Park was into the folded hills, it was all any of the rest could do just to stay with her. For the next five minutes, Clay’s collision warning system was constantly at yellow and sometimes red; but suddenly he sort of got it, and he was smiling as he stayed twenty meters behind his commander and three meters off the undulating ground. It wasn’t hard. It was easy. He reached over and flicked off his collision warning system.

He could hear Natasha laughing. Park warned her to keep quiet or people would think she was having fun.

Park led them on a tour of the rills and gullies and smaller craters, and then she pulled out of a deep little crater and took them at mad speed straight at the bottom of a cliff. It was a kilometer away, then a hundred meters—they were traveling at three hundred meters each second.

Then Park pulled up and the others pulled up with her. It took a moment but Clay fell in behind the others again, shooting up the cliff. Suddenly it ended and they shot over the top like waves over a sea wall. Clay and Natasha and Rachel looked down and there, on top of the cliff, Park was setting her fighter down. They cut thrust and hovered down, and by the time Bouvier’s wing had come up over the cliff, Park’s wing were all out of their fighters, standing around Park.

“We going up against Bouvier’s wing?” asked Rachel.

“Is this training going to involve photon cannons?” asked Natasha.

“What about Vilya’s wing?” asked Clay.

“She’ll be along,” said Park. “As to photon cannons, only simulated ones.”

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