Van gets some bad news at the height of the Battle of PNAB Triton.
Location: Revetment 3, PNAB Triton, Hyperion, Picon
Related Scenes: None
Scene Number: 585
Van may not know much about aeronautics or electrical engineering or anything more technical than software coding, but he can certainly play nurse to those who do, and he's learning on the job, because his Viper got banged up last time up, and it won't fly without some serious work.
"14 mil-spanner." The request comes from the crew chief with his head buried in the left engine of Van's Viper, and the pilot snags the tool from the kit and slaps it into the chief's hand. There's a grunt of thanks from inside the Viper, and then the sound of something being ratcheted tight.
Van leans over to look past the chief, but then looks up as two Vipers are pulled into the revetment by tugs. The long faces of the pilots as they disembark mean bad news, and Van leans forward to clap the crew chief on the shoulder, "Be right back, Chief." There's another grunt of acknowledgement, and then Van is headed over to the two, "Krunch, Comet, what happened?"
"Oh shit, you didn't hear?" Comet glances aside to Krunch, her eyes widening slightly, "Shark went up against six, Milkman." Van's worried look starts to smooth into a proud grin, but the expression freezes in horror as Comet continues, "She went into the harbor. No 'chute. I thought you'd have heard on the wireless."
Van is already shaking his head, "No way, man. No way the toasters get Shark." It's pure, desperate denial. The young pilot already knows its true, knows his fellow Sea Knights wouldn't screw with him like that, wouldn't joke about one of their own going out to sea.
Krunch frowns, "Damned near got the rest of us killed too, diving into that flight." Anger fills the pilot's voice as he continues, "We had to go after her, and then we got bounced by another four. My bird's going to be down for a week or more, and Snowman is already on his way to medical."
Van's right fist balls up, "Shut the frak up, Krunch." Comet steps forward, moving to get between the two men before either one can do anything regrettable, but Van keeps talking, his fear, anger, and grief blending together into an inflammable mixture. "She's the best damned pilot on the base. By a long shot." Not that Van is biased or anything. "More than twice the kills you have."
Krunch fires right back, each of them pressing against the hands Comet has put on their chests, "Yeah? Then why did she get all her wingmen killed, Milkman? Think about it. Skinner, Otter, Wolfman, Windsock? You're the last of Squire Flight, man. And it's because of her."
That causes Van to surge against Comet's restraining hand, pushing in close to Krunch, close enough to throw a punch, but something saner works its way through Van's emotions, slowing his surge and even letting Comet push him back as Krunch continues, "She didn't push the envelope, she tore it to shreds, and it got a lot of people killed. Too many. You can't fly like that and survive. We can't afford that, man."
Van's shoulders slump, the words whirling in his brain, slamming about like unsecured ballast in a storm. He mumbles something approximating, "Sorry, Krunch..." as he turns away, his steps aimless, undirected.
Shark's dead. Sure, Squire Flight had been getting drained since the Uprising, but it had always been passed off as the others not being able to keep up. They slipped up, they didn't go far enough, they died. What if they'd gone too far instead?
Van finds himself in the Officer's Club not long after, slumped down in a chair, staring at nothing and scratching at the still-healing scar on his left forearm. A couple of Marines are at the next table over, and the flare of a match draws Van's attention as one of them lights a cigarette. Leaning over, he gives a little upnod, "Hey... can I bum one?"
The Marine officer obliges, shaking out a cigarette and offering out the matchbox as well. Van nods his thanks, tucks the smoke into the corner of his mouth, and tries to strike a match. His hands are shaking though, and he drops the first one, flushing bright. The second match flares to life, and he sticks it to the end of the cigarette, drawing in -- and immediately coughing the match out as the smoke burns his lungs.
But the cigarette is lit, and he returns the matchbox to the chuckling Marines, staring at the smoke curling up from the end of the coffin-nail. Shark was gone. So was the rest of Squire Flight, and he was next if something didn't change. As the nicotine hits his system, Van can feel the energy surging back through his nerves. Yeah. Something was going to change. He was going to make it.
He was going to live long enough to see all the toasters dead, for what they did to 'Nique and Becca, for Shark, for Windsock, Otter, Skinner, Wolfman, and Crosser. For all the other people they'd killed. He'd see them pay, and that meant he had to stay alive. No more wild shit. No more crazy flying. Just killing toasters.