CHAPTER 28 A
Lights were set up as the evening shadows lengthened. The lines of prospective pilots and fighters still stretched as far as Kacey could see. More computers were set up to help process all those who wanted to learn to defend their home world. The Marines stopped just long enough to grab a quick meal or bio break before they returned to the tables.
After almost fifteen straight hours the last of the volunteers had been processed. Kacey took off her glasses and rubbed her tired sore eyes. She stretched out her back which was stiff from being hunched over the keyboard for so many hours. The lights from a Rover lit up the tables. Kate and Liam stepped out when the Rover came to a stop. They walked over to the table where Kacey was talking to her troops.
"Final tally two thousand three hundred seventeen. This has been one long ass day." Kacey stated.
"How will we pick two hundred sixty pilots out of that number?" Mike asked.
"ENOUGH." Kate yelled. "You have been at this since oh nine hundred hours. PACK IT IN." She ordered.
"We are just finishing up Kate. I just need a few more minutes."
"Lass you be listening to Katie." Liam stated.
"I will dad. Just give me five more minutes." Kacey told him.
"Five minutes and not one second more." Kate stated.
"Everyone pick out fifty names from the ones you processed who were interested in flying. We will start with those. All the others will be funneled into learning to be mechanics or the ground forces. We can make changes later if we need to as people are winnowed out. Put those weapons in a secure area and put a guard on them. Tomorrow we will all train on the weapons. Official training begins Monday morning. We will divide the pilots into groups of fifty to seventy five Vernans. Ground forces into squads of one hundred. We have enough people who want to help with the training."
"Five minutes are almost up Kacey." Kate stated and grabbed Kacey's arm.
"Pack up all the equipment. Get those lists to me by twelve hundred hours. Mike bring my shuttle back to Andromeda." Kacey talked rapidly as Kate and Liam pulled her away from the tables. She managed to grab her computer. "Make sure those weapons are secured" She shouted as Kate pushed her into the back of the Rover. Liam drove quickly towards Andromeda. "That was not necessary, Kate. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have my family drag me home?" Kacey said angrily.
"Quite frankly, I do not care. You can only do so much in a day. Natalia was worried about you." Kate stated. "Did your friend make an appearance?"
"She is not my friend." Kacey replied. "She was around but stayed on the edge of the airfield. How did you know we were still working?"
"I told you Natalia was worried. We were visiting and for the last couple hours all she did was pace. At this stage of the game you DO NOT worry a pregnant woman."
"I told her I would be late, but I really had no idea it would be this late. Over twenty three hundred Vernans showed up. That was just from inside the city limits."
"What are ye doing tomorrow lass?" Liam asked.
"Sleeping in would be nice, but I have to go through the list of Vernans I processed so that I can be ready when the men bring me their selections. I can do that right from my office or quarters."
"Tis good to hear lass." Liam stated.
True to her word, Kacey after sleeping in an extra hour, spent most of the day going over the lists of officers gave her. The Marines practiced with the Vernan weapons. After several hours, she sent word to the queen to have everyone return to the airfield to learn their spots and when their training will begin and meet their instructors. Training for everyone would begin in two days.
That done, Kacey shut down her computer and left her office. She decided to stop at the Mess Hall for a few minutes before heading back to their quarters. Since the party, she and Patricia had become closer. She walked to the counter. Patricia noticed her and brought her a coffee.
"Did you have lunch?"
"I grabbed a sandwich from the replicator."
"Go sit, I will bring you something better than a sandwich."
"Okay." Kacey said and took her coffee to their favorite table. Within minutes, Patricia placed a plate in front of her.
"Would you like some company?"
"Of course. I would like that very much."
Patricia sat down across from her. "Are you done for the day?"
"I am, unless an emergency pops up. After the long day yesterday was, I decided to make today an early one. There are a few things I could be doing, but decided they could wait until tomorrow."
"Where is Natalia?"
"Last I knew, she was going shopping with Kate and Anya. I just hope her shadows are with them."
"You really do not trust that princess do you?"
"Not in the least. No matter what I say to her, she will not take no for an answer. I don't know what I can do without causing some sort of interplanetary incident."
"What about talking to the Queen?"
"And say what? You daughter is after me and I don't want any part of it? I have a feeling that would not go over very well."
"I could always talk to Queen Dyan, mother to mother." Patricia offered.
"You have no idea how tempting that is mom." Kacey stated. "This is something I need to handle"
"Please be careful."
"I can guarantee that mom. Natalia is not the only one with a shadow."
"That is good to hear." Patricia stated. "Any news on the sex of the second baby?"
"We know, but we would like to keep that information to ourselves until they are born."
"Now I am intrigued."
"Mom, there is a reason. Please don't get angry because we want to keep the information a secret. This is something we really want to do."
"I am not angry, Kacey. We will find out in a few weeks."
"WEEKS?" Kacey stated. "No Natalia has two months to go yet."
"Sweetheart, relax. Yes you have two months. How does everything look?"
"It was cute. One of them was sucking their thumb or it looked liked that to me. Anyway, Doctor Amstell said they weigh between three and four pounds right now" Kacey told her. "There are times when I can not wait for them to arrive, then the next minute I am so scared that I will not be a good mother."
"That is perfectly natural, dear. Every woman goes through this."
"So what do I do, mom? I want to be as good a mother as Kate and Anya are or as good a mom as I have."
"Oh Kacey." Patricia said her eyes filling with tears. "This is a very special time for you. Don't waste it worrying. Take one day at a time and love your family.
Training for the Vernans started. Those not picked for pilots learned hand to hand combat and how to use the weapons. The pilots started their first week learning how to fix the flyers. They were then broken into groups of five and taken into the Virtual Reality rooms on Andromeda. They were able to practice using the consoles to simulated flying. Each would have an hour to practice. The days were long for the crew and Marines who took part in the training. Kacey and her officers worked in the VR rooms, The mechanics worked with those Vernans who were more suited for the mechanical side of operations. While other sets of Marines and Security took them through hand to hand combat and another through weapons practice..
The first week flew by. They all worked to cram as much information as possible into the time frame. After each person had six hours behind the controls in the VR room, they were taken up into the air. The officers stood before the first group of one hundred that would take the flyers up. Each Vernan was issued a number according to their sign up number. They were all in flight suits. Each Marine would work one on one with each of the pilots. The first one hundred stood in front of the Marines.
"All we are going to today, is get you into the air to let you get a feel for the flyer. No tricks or fancy turns this time. We will take a short flight. Numbers one through ten will pair off with one of us. The first thing you will do is your preflight inspection of the outside of the craft. Then you will get into the flyer and do the preflight on the systems. Then you will put on your harness and headphones. You will touch nothing until instructed to. Do you all understand?" They nodded. Kacey looked at her officers and smiled. "I am sorry, I can not hear a nod. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" Kacey shouted.
One hundred voices shouted, "YES."
"Good. First ten, start your preflight inspection." Kacey ordered. The students went to their assigned flyer. Each was followed by a Marine. They watched the students go through the external exam and climbed into the cockpit. Once the students put on the headphones, the instructors did their preflight exams. With their headphones on, they could talk directly to the student working with them. Kacey looked at her first student. "Take a couple deep breaths and try to relax." Kacey smiled at her student to help her relax. "Ready to do this?"
"Lower the cockpit bubble." Kacey ordered. Both bubbles closed. "Start your flyer." She told her student. "Push the thrusters forward slightly and the ship will rise slowly." The two flyers left the ground. "Very good. Now push the thrusters forward again slightly so that we can go higher." The flyers rose again. "Now push the throttles forward slightly. Keep your flyer even. Check the stabilizer and make sure the flyer on the horizon is nice and level. We are going to go forward slowly." The flyers started to move forward. "Very good. We are going to fly in a very wide circle around the city. How does the flyer feel to you?"
"Really good Colonel."
"Ready for a little more speed?"
"All right. Before we go faster, we have to go higher. Push the thrusters forward a little more. Very good." Kacey told her student. "Now push the throttle forward again." They flew away from the airfield towards the mountains in the distance. "Now we are going to do a nice gentle wide turn to starboard, that is the right. Turn the yoke a quarter turn. That's it. Nice and gentle. Keep all your steering movements nice and smooth. Now straighten out. Very good. You are doing fine. Do you feel comfortable at the controls?"
"I do Colonel."
"So now we are going to go a bit higher and a little faster."
"I am willing."
"Thrusters first just a little, then the throttles the same amount." Kacey watched the pilot behind the controls and smiled. "Very good. Right now we are flying at around seventy kilometers and hour."
"Is that considered fast Colonel?"
"Not in the air it isn't. We are going to execute another wide gentle turn to starboard/right and head back toward the airfield. Once we are through the turn, pull back on the throttles to slow down. We will be nearing other flyers so be on the lookout for them."
"Slow down a bit more. That's it. We will be at the airfield in about five minutes. Pull back on the throttles again. When we get to the airfield pull the throttles all the way back. This will stop the forward movement, but the thrusters will keep us off the ground until we are sure there is nothing underneath us and it is safe to land."
"There is the airfield, pull the throttles almost all the way back." The two flyers slowed even more as they approached the landing area until they stopped and checked the area below them. "Pull back on the thrusters slowly to bring you down." Kacey told her. "Go down slowly. Keep you hand on the thrusters. Nice smooth movements. Pull back more." The flyers continued to descend to the ground. "At five meters shut the thrusters down and left the ship drift to the ground." The ships touched down. "Very good. Open the bubble, shut down the flyer, remove the headphones and release your harness, in that order. Then climb out of the flyer." Kacey ordered. When they were both on the ground, Kacey said, " you did good for your first time. If you want to continue, be back here in three days for your next lesson. The Virtual Reality room will be available if you want to practice before your next flight."
"Thank you Colonel." The Vernan pilot said and shook Kacey's hand before she walked away.
"Number eleven." Kacey called out. "Once again a Vernan woman approached Kacey for her first flight lesson.
Through out the day, the Marines took the would be pilots for their first flights until late afternoon when the light faded. Flights ended for the day.
CHAPTER 28 B
For the next two weeks, each day was the same as the Marines and Security trained the Vernans to protect themselves. In exchange the crew was allowed to add to the existing communication towers. Over the course of the training, Kacey caught sight of Taki watching her. Kacey made sure she was never alone when the princess made an appearance.
The last of the Vernan pilots had left for the day. The Marines went through their notes on the pilots.
"Out of three hundred pilots, there are over two hundred fifty who are ready to go onto more intense training." Mike stated.
"What is the trouble with the rest?"
"Many lack confidence in themselves. If they don't have it, we can not give it to them. They are okay pilots. Sort of a third string." Dan stated.
"Are there any you would not want watching your back or be your wing guard?"
"A few, but they would make much better mechanics than pilots. They showed an aptitude for being mechanics. I think they should be taken out of the pilot's program and given intensive training in repairs."
"Have the mechanics work with them to teach them as much as possible about fixing the flyers." Kacey told them. "When we come back on Monday, we will take the best of them and throw a few things at them."
"Mock battles?" Mike asked.
"For starters. We can have mock battle competitions and the winners get to go against us." Kacey told them. "Time to pack it in for today. I have a date that I do not want to be late for."
They closed up their computers, picked up their notes and carried everything to Kacey's shuttle. The men went on board while Kacey did a quick structural assessment. She felt a hand on her arm and jumped.
"Don't do that." She ordered.
"You have not come to me so I came to you." Taki said.
"Princess, that is not going to ever happen. I am very happily married."
"You will still be married. I am just looking for a tiny piece. She will not even miss it."
"Look princess, I have tried to be polite, but that has not worked. So listen and listen good. There is no way I will ever cheat on my wife. If you are looking for a one night stand you will have to look elsewhere. In other words, BACK OFF AND LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE." Kacey yelled and walked into her shuttle. Taki stepped back away from the machine as it rose off the ground.
"We will see Colonel." Taki said and blew a kiss to Kacey as she lifted off. She watched the shuttle head back to the field where Andromeda had landed. She walked away from the airfield to where a group of Vernans waited for her. She was a handed a small package and left.
Kacey closed the ramp on her shuttle and made her way up the ramp into the Hanger. She stopped long enough to drop off her computer and headed for the lift. She touched her communicator. "Kate."
"Where are you?"
"Sitting in you living room drinking your brandy."
"Is everything all right?"
"I will fill you in on everything when you get here."
"Deck four." Kacey stated her heart beat doing double time. The doors opened. Kacey bolted from the lift before the doors were fully opened. She ran down the corridor and punched in the code for the door. "What's wrong?" She demanded.
"Shh. Keep it down. Natalia is sleeping right now." Kate told her, as she handed her a glass of brandy. "Natalia had some pains today. I took her to see Doctor Amstell."
"Why didn't anyone call me?" Kacey demanded.
"Natalia asked that we not bother you until we knew for sure that what she was feeling was labor."
"Keep it down." Kate ordered. "She is fine. Natalia had some false labor. To be sure, Dr. Amstell did another ultrasound to check everything out. The babies are in position for birth, and are both fine."
"She is sure?"
"Doctor Amstell is positive. You should be aware that with multiples, the chances are slim that Natalia will go the full nine months."
"I know that. Kate are you sure Talia and the babies are all right?"
"Yes. They are all fine."
"What was she doing when the pains started?"
"She, Anya and dad were setting up the nursery, to make sure everything is ready. Most of what Natalia did was supervise. The cribs are put together. Queen Dyan also sent two cradles and those two rocking chairs." Kate pointed to the chairs. "We put the cradles in your bedroom until you are both ready to move them into their own room."
Kacey rubbed her hands over her face. "Damn."
"Kacey, relax. This is perfectly normal. Anya has several bouts of false labor. I almost went crazy."
"I remember that." Kacey joked. "Anya was ready to tranquilize you."
"Doctor Amstell has told Natalia she can only work for four hours a day now."
"Good." Kacey said. She finished her brandy and poured another for each of them.
"How is the training going?" Kate asked, changing the subject.
"Quite well. There are a few that will make far better mechanics than pilots. I will have my mechanics work with them." She took a sip of her drink. "Taki approached me again."
"She does not give up."
"I had to tell her in no uncertain terms to back off." As I lifted off she blew me a kiss then we all saw her walk towards a group of Vernans that have been hanging around the airfield." Kacey said. "I don't know what to do Kate. She can not get it through her head that I want nothing to do with her." Kate shook her head. "I will be so glad to leave this planet. I do not trust Taki."
"How much more training do the pilots need?"
"Not much. When we start up again Monday, we were going to have a mock battle competition. The winner of that will do battle against us."
"Wrong choice of words. The mock battles will still take place, but I will not be there. My officers can handle that. My place is here with Talia."
"I think that is the best decision little sister."
"What do I do is this happens again, Kate?"
"Call the doctor. There is no way of knowing if the labor is real. Only the doctor can tell the difference. The one thing you can not do is panic."
"Yeah right." Kacey said. "Hey wait a minute, did you go in for the ultrasound with Talia?"
"I wondered when that thought would hit you." Kate joked. "Yes I did."
"Did you see?"
"I did. Like I told you before, that your secret is safe with me."
"Thank you, Kate." They finished their brandy.
Monday came. Kacey stayed close to Natalia. Even when Natalia returned to her duties, Kacey only went as far as her office, but found reasons to visit the Bridge several times during the four hour shift. For the first two days, Natalia allowed Kacey to hover, then put her foot down. Over breakfast, she told Kacey, "GO BACK TO WORK."
Kacey reluctantly returned to the training after extracting a promise that Natalia would call if she had any sort of pains. She stood on the ground next to her Marines as they watched the Vernans go through the mock battles. The Vernan flyers were equipped with flashing light beams instead of weapons. The squads were divided up with different colored banners. The orange Vernan sun gleamed off the metal of the flyers as the pilots took their flyers through twists and turns. Periodically a flyer would land signifying the flyer had been damaged in the mock battle.
The battles continued through out the day until late afternoon when one side had been declared the overall winner and told the prize they had won. The troops had been dismissed for the day. Everyone left until only Kacey and her top three officers were alone on the airfield in the fading light. They had started to pack up their computers when one by one they slapped at their necks as they were hit with small darts. Within seconds all four were unconscious on the ground.
Several Vernans with Taki in the lead, converged on the Marines. They picked up Kacey and carried her unconscious form from the airfield.
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