The next morning, or the next day period, Clay managed to get up and forget the low gravity of the Moon. He banged his head on an overhead cabinet, then his shin on the bed corner. Cussing, he managed to pull on his robe and go out to the common area. Natasha sat there in her robe with a cup of coffee. Clay managed to get a cup for himself.
“Rachel’s got the shower,” said Natasha.
“You guys all showered together before.”
“I didn’t get up in time or something.”
They sat there sipping coffee. Clay said, “So where’s the boss?”
“Commanders are having some sort of meeting.”
“Was this planned?” he asked.
“Nope. Message came this morning early.” She sipped. She was not smiling.
They had a little more coffee. It was still blistering hot. He had no idea what it was actually made from, the coffee or the cream, but it did taste good. He tried to meet Natasha’s eyes but Natasha wasn’t looking up. He said, “I’ll tell you one thing. They are not going to find the wing commanders in the best of moods this morning.”
Natasha smirked and snorted a tiny derisive feminine snort.
Clay managed to get his shower in, after Natasha. He and Natasha and Rachel got down to breakfast and joined the other six wing recruits. They had seconds, they had lots of coffee, they went to the bathroom several times.
“So anyone know,” Jane Tremblay said, “what we’re going to do today?” She looked at Rachel. “You’re Park’s second. She tell you anything?”
“She said, and I quote,” said Rachel in her precise way, “we will get in a practice today somehow. That was all she told me.”
“That was all she said?” asked Gil Rojette.
“Celeste swore some,” said Tremblay.
“Tell me we’re not in trouble,” said Jana Bluehorse. “Tell me they’re not bleepin’ with us. I’m gonna tear some people some new buttholes if—!”
“Do you think there’s really a problem?” Timmis asked Clay.
“No,” said Clay, “it’s just organizational.”
The door to the lift slid open and out came Agneska Vilya. She saw the nine fliers and smiled as she headed for them. She wore her vac suit with her helmet collapsed behind her shoulder-length red hair. She got a cup of coffee, went over to the tables they had pushed together and put the cup down. She leaned on the table, looking as though she was barely in contact with matter: at one sixth Earth gravity, these little people all felt like they were about to float away. Vilya turned her smile around all of them: she was almost pretty smiling.
“We’re going to have a little practice without the other two,” she said. “Do some low-level far off where we’ll be out of people’s way.”
“Commander Vilya,” said Tremblay, Bouvier’s second, “are you the only one who didn’t get fired?”
Vilya laughed. “No, no,” she said. “But Commander Park and Commander Bouvier have stayed behind to fully convince the brass of our point of view.” She looked around. None of them was soothed. “They stayed because honestly, among the three of us, they got all the negotiating skills.”
Gil Rojette laughed slightly and said, “Isn’t that the truth.”
“And all the putting up with buttholes skills,” said Bluehorse. “Okay. Let’s.”
And that day the ten pilots flew informal maneuvers, ran races over the Sea of Tranquility, did an hour of one on ones (Clay beat Timmis, Rojette and Li Zan, and got beat by Timmis, Tremblay, Santos and Rachel) and then they fought five on five. Clay was with Tremblay as commander, Rachel, Timmis and Bluehorse against Vilya, Rojette, Natasha, Li Zan and Vera Santos.
They ran the battle three times. The first time, Clay, Timmis and Jana Bluehorse all fell victim to Vera Santos, who was on a streak; they set their fighters down on the surface and watched Vilya’s group nail down Tremblay and Rachel, who worked out a nice defensive pas de deux on the fly and survived longer than they should have. The second round went to Vilya’s crew as well, but this time it was Rachel and Clay left at the end, against Vilya, Santos and Natasha. Clay did whatever Rachel told him to do. They dove to the surface till he could practically reach out and touch it, simulated lasers slicing through the space they had just vacated.
Then they sped out across the flat surface of the mare, Rachel ahead and to the left of Clay. The other three came in behind them, slicing away. They would be sliced into lunch meat soon. Rachel said, “Flip!” and Clay did, rolling over his pod’s left shoulder and coming out facing back and firing at the first target he acquired. He hit the middle of the target, and was rewarded by Natasha swearing. Behind him, Rachel flipped and blasted Vera Santos to simulated hell. But then Vilya shot through both of them, coming from the left, and it was over.
“What did we learn?” she called as they set down among the others on the surface and Vilya hovered above in her Ghost.
“Two on three,” said Rachel, “someone is going to be open.”
“Two on three,” said Clay, “one of you has to look for two enemies. Simple math.”
“That’s right,” said Vilya, landing, “simple math.”
The last fight of the day looked much the same as the first two, except for one thing: Bluehorse in her usual way placed herself in Vilya’s face and they knocked each other out. At the fifteen second mark, it was Rachel and Clay again—against the other four. They chased back across the mare and around a rough highland. “We have got to stop doing this,” said Rachel as they sped away, weaving to avoid the blasts from behind.
“Flip?” asked Clay.
“I’m thinking,” said Rachel. “Come around that spire. But have two targets, okay?”
“Have three,” said Clay, “just in case we overlap.”
“Good thinking.” And that was all the planning they had time for. Clay whipped around the central mountain of a small crater, and the four pursuers were coming at him in diamond pattern. He targeted them in quick order: one, two, three, all but the rightmost one. He dodged left, then blasted One, dodged right and blasted Two. Three matched his next dodge and was about to blast him when she suddenly lifted and went into hover. She landed: it was Santos, and Rachel had gotten her with her second shot. Her first had knocked out Rojette. Clay had gotten Li Zan and Natasha.
“God damn it, Clay,” said Natasha as they jumped out of their Ghosts and headed for each other. Rachel landed nearby and headed over.
“What can I say?” asked Rachel. “We’re the best wing.”
“Yeah,” said Clay, “that’s the truth, but can we keep doing it?”