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A Change of Seasons
Posted on July 29th, 2008 by Ian Blackthorne

Ian Blackthorne pulled hard back and to the right on the Boudica’s controls, pulling the fighter into a steep turning climb. Another Mustang chased him, and hesitated in its reaction to the maneuver, shooting under him before also beginning to climb. Seeing the mistake, Ian applied full reverse thrust, flipped the fighter one hundred and eighty degrees, and then threw the throttle forward again. It was the sort of maneuver that only worked in space, but it produced results – an immediate microtorpedo lock on the pursuing Mustang. Staring down into its cockpit, since he had attacked from above, he could see his opponent slam the console in disgust. “You’re dead, Firefly,” he said over the commlink.

Kathryn Harper swore elaborately in her native Risan tongue. “Yes, yes, it has been a while since I have flown, you know. What is the point of this check-out flight again?”

The two fighters settled into formation alongside each other. “I told you, I need all able pilots qualified on the Mustangs. Your piloting experience came up in a review of the crew roster.”

“Lucky me.” Harper suddenly climbed hard, hoping to catch Blackthorne off guard. If she had to do this, she figured that she might as well enjoy it and at least try to get a shot in on the Admiral.

Ian’s reaction was near-instant, and he pulled up hard in pursuit. He guessed that she would try the same flip maneuver on him, and would turn out to be correct. As soon as he saw her maneuvering thrusters fire, he dove hard, and she was left looking at empty space.

In the one second it took for Harper to locate him on sensors, the enemy weapon lock tone alerted her that she was once again dead. After the dive beneath her, he had flipped his Mustang to face her as she flew past, ending up below and behind. She swore in Bolian, and then opened the comm channel. “I know, I know, I am dead.”

Smirking, he replied, “Good try though, but now you see the counter to that.”

She cut the comm and muttered, “I have seen it before.” Harper watched him come alongside and vowed that she would get at least one kill on him before this flight was over. Determined, she flip-turned the Mustang again, and then flipped again two seconds later, this time keeping an eye on the sensors to track her adversary.

Blackthorne had reacted, but was still within sight, turning hard to the right. She matched his turn, trying to cut inside to get a lead on him for the target lock. Just as she thought she might succeed, he flipped and yawed his fighter, ending up on a course opposite and above the plane of her turn. This time, she reacted immediately and rolled left into a steep banking climb, ending up behind him. “Firing solution, Great White,” she said through a smug grin.

With a measure of surprise in his voice, he responded, “Great move, Firefly! Don’t think that after that, you can still use the, ‘but I’m rusty!’ excuse with me.” Ian looked out of his canopy and could almost see a trail of self-satisfaction behind her Mustang as she eased into formation on his wing. “Let’s return to base, you’re qualified.” He had briefed her on the omnidirectional phasers and multiple shield configurations earlier; the torpedo-lock exercise was purely maneuvering and tactical practice.

A few minutes later, the Mustangs eased to a landing in Atlantis’s assault bay. Once their shutdown sequences had completed, the canopies opened and their pilots climbed down to the deck. Harper took off her helmet, and as she shook her red ponytail loose she saw Blackthorne approaching with his helmet tucked smartly under his left arm. When he reached her, he offered a handshake and a smile. “Congratulations, Commander.”

Stowing her own helmet under her arm, she accepted the handshake looking somewhat confused. “What for, sir?”

“Quite frankly, I believe your talents are wasted in your current position as Beta Shift CO. With Commander T’Kirr’s promotion to Executive Officer, the 42nd Wing is left with one vacancy.” After a pause to gauge her reaction, which he could empathically sense was nervous excitement, he continued. “The Wing is left with another open position, that of Commander, Air Group, following my combat flight status disqualification due to a recurrence of night blindness. Being that the Sharks need an established Atlantis leader to fill such a large power vacuum at the top, I am making you the new CAG.”

Kathryn Harper stood mutely for a long moment, stunned. She had always preferred the peace and quiet of the beta shift gig, but the prospect of this new assignment was admittedly exciting. “Thank you, Admiral! I am honored by your faith in me to serve in such a role and will do my best.”

“You’d better.” Ian produced a pair of gold wings from a pocket in his flightsuit and handed them to her. “Welcome to the 42nd – your new assignment is effective immediately. Report to Dr. Carre ASAP for your flight physical, and have me a status report on the state of the Wing by 0800 tomorrow.”

“Yes sir!” Harper emphatically replied as she accepted the wings and attached them to her flightsuit. Standing proudly, she waited to see if the Admiral had anything else before she got to work at her new job.

“Keep my bird gassed up and ready. Even if I can’t fly in combat, it’ll take more than Dr. Carre to keep me permanently grounded.”

Harper smiled. “Boudica will be waiting, Great White.”

“I’m no longer top shark, so It’s back to my old callsign – Sixgun.” With that acknowledgment, Ian turned and headed for the locker room in a cloud of melancholia, sad to lose a job that he loved, but at least content that the Sharks would be in good hands.


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