Elsie sat on a bench across the street from Barlon headquarters, her head buried in a book she’d saved to memory years ago.  Beside her, Benjamin sat with his eyes in a paper he’d just picked up today.  She frowned as she realized he was looking at the sports section, figuring he was out of this stakeout for good.  Then she shrugged and let her optics scan over the massive pyramidal structure of Barlon headquarters.

Wide at the base, it sprawled over the equivalent of a full city block, though the large park it was centered in sprawled out over four city blocks by itself.  Her optics scanned over the trees and flowers and other landscaping, her strategy sub-routines noting numerous areas that worked as defensible positions from the outside, while leaving them open to fire from the building.  Barlon was obviously paranoid.

Of course, that did bring out an old question.  If they really were out to get you, were you still paranoid?  She shrugged and her gaze ran up the building again, taking in many large “decks” on the sides of the building that forced each successive floor to be narrower than the ones below.  Judging by their sizes, Barlon must have been able to throw some really big parties.  She smiled at that thought, but ran her processors over the data about its defenses.  Each of those “decks” were actually designed to allow turrets to roll out so they could fire on attacking air or ground targets.  Barlon was most definitely a fortress by any definition.  A fortress that jammed all unauthorized communications from or to the outside to stop exactly what they were trying to do.  Of course, Barlon hadn’t counted on Vanessa.

She smiled at that thought and kept on scanning for the signal, wondering how long it was going to take.  According to the schedule, it should be any second now.  She blinked as one of the armored doors covering a defense turret swung open and smiled as if she’d just gotten to a funny part of the book in her hands.

“She’s got it.” Elsie whispered and Ben nodded slowly.

“Call Cat,” he responded and Elsie smiled.

Cat.  Now, she transmitted and heard a single hiss of not-so-random static in response. “She’s on her way,” Elsie whispered and kept on reading.

“Good.  Now we wait,” Ben muttered and shifted his position on the bench trying to stay comfortable.

“You’re good at waiting.”  Her wink caught his attention and he snickered back.

“I don’t know.  And here I can think of a thing or two I’ve been really bad at waiting for,” he muttered with a shrug.

“I wonder if it’s what I think it is.”

“Maybe we could compare notes tonight?” Ben whispered.

Mmmmm…sounds intriguing,” Elsie returned with a knowing smirk.

Can’t you two shut up?  Elsie looked back into her book at Nova’s transmission and smiled.

Glad you could make it, she transmitted back.

This doesn’t mean I won’t kill him, Nova responded coldly.

I know.  So does he.  Thanks for helping.

Just wanted to make sure we were clear.

Clear as crystal, Elsie transmitted.

Good.  Just tell me when.

“Nova?” Ben asked and Elsie smiled in response.

“She’s here.  She still wants to kill you.”

“Par for the course.”

“At least she came.”

“Good point.”





Cat twisted her throttle to the side, pulling her Crow into a corkscrew as she shot over the target, drawing its fire onto her shields as they constantly spun to bring new areas to bear against the spread of laser blasts.  Then the computers logged a hit from Money and the turret stopped firing as she pulled her fighter up and away from the firing grounds.

“That’s it,” she transmitted to the squadron.  “Good job everyone, especially Eyes,”

“Thanks, commander,” Eyes responded quickly.  When she’d first come in, the guys in the squadron had instantly wanted to give her a nickname after another part of her well-endowed anatomy, but after seeing her at target practice, they’d agreed to recycling the name Eyes again.  Probably more out of self-defense than any other reason.  It was a nickname that most definitely fit.

Cat looked at the time and shrugged.  Time to take a breather.  “Let’s get out of these tin cans and stretch out,” she transmitted and pushed her fighter down to a small landing area as the other five fighters followed.  She landed first and climbed out to slide down to the dusty ground quickly, bringing her rations with her.  She stretched out and sat down in the shade under the nose of her fighter, checking the time again.  1245 hours.

She smiled and pulled out the canteen, taking a swift drink of water before looking up to see the three male pilots staring slack jawed at something.  She brought her head around to look and saw Eyes stretching out slowly, showing off every curve the piloting suits didn’t mask for all they were worth.  And the front of her flight suit being unzipped to her navel probably had nothing to do with their attention either. She sighed helplessly, figuring there was no sense in ruining what could be their last day, and pulled out a ration bar that said it was beef.

One taste confirmed her suspicions that it would taste nothing like beef, or any other meat she’d ever tasted, but it was designed to give enough energy to fight.  Eyes finally stopped stretching out and Cat smiled as the guys started moving again, looking around for their own ration packs before sitting down in the shade of their fighters and bantering back and forth at each other.  She smiled as Mask and Eyes sat down facing her and took a swig.

“You’re impossible,” Cat muttered and Eyes gave her the innocent act.

“What?  You said we should stretch out.  I was just following orders.”

“Right,” Cat muttered back, eyeing the redhead closely before taking another bite of whatever the ration bar was made of.  She swallowed it and turned to Mask after washing it down with another hit from the canteen.  “My wing will hit the western and southern sides of the building,” she noted in a business-like tone as she prepared to take another bite.  “You take the northern and eastern sides, ok?” she finished and bit into the tasteless ration bar.

“That should work,” Mask whispered between bites of something the wrapping said was ham and cheese.  Cat had tasted it before and preferred not to eat cheese that could be rolled up and bounced off a hanger deck like a tennis ball.  “What do we do when the on-call squadron arrives?”

“We hope we’ve taken out enough of the building defenses that they can’t slaughter us with their combined firepower before James gets there,” Cat noted between mouthfuls of the unbeefy beef.

“So what do you rate our chances at?” Eyes asked and Cat shrugged.

“Do you want the pep talk or the truth?”

“Pep talk sounds like it would be fun,” Eyes noted with a smile and Cat chuckled.

“They won’t stand a chance,” she finally whispered.

“Just what I like to hear,” Eyes muttered.  “And the truth?”

“I don’t know, but we do have surprise on our side.  That has to count for something,” Cat muttered after washing down the last of the ration bar with a long drink of water.  “Somebody’s gotta do something.  It's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”  Then she looked at her watch and scowled.  1250 hours.  Jack and Vanessa would be going in now.  “Ok people,” she projected.  “Let’s load up and get ready to fly.  This one’s gonna be a doozy!”  She stood up and looked down at the wrapper still surrounding Eyes’ ration bar and scowled again.  She had chicken, probably the only ration bar Barlon had ever been able to make taste right.  Of course that might be because chicken tasted like just about everything.  “You are so lucky,” she whispered and Eyes smiled innocently at her before standing up and walking towards her own fighter as she finished off the bar.

Cat sighed and stuffed the wrapping back into her ration bag, took another swig of water to wash down the non-taste of her beef, and stuffed the canteen in after it.  Then she walked over to the ladder hanging off her fighter and climbed up into the cockpit.  A quick lock of her four point harness had her held inside tightly and she smiled as the cockpit closed around her before engaging the fighter’s gravity plating.  It floated up slowly as the others followed, one-by-one into the sky and Cat nodded in approval as she stuffed her long blonde hair back into her helmet.

“Everybody in formation,” she transmitted.  “Let’s make this look good for anybody watching,” she added with a smile, referring to the sensors that Barlon had arrayed to watch the pilots practicing, and watched as the others pulled in behind her and Mask.  Now all they had to do was wait.  As it turned out, they didn’t have to wait long.

“Cat.  Now,” the transmission came in and she sent back a single bit of static.

“Let’s jet,” she transmitted to the squadron and slammed the throttle forward.  Within seconds, the six fighters were shooting north towards the Barlon Spaceport at just under the speed of sound, contrails running off the edges of their wings.  A minute passed, then two, and Cat glanced at the chronometer, wondering when the call would come in.

Barlon Security Squadron, this is Planetary Defense,” her comm. system spoke and she smiled.  “Your route tracks through skies currently assessed as a military exercise area.  Route west and north to bypass is.  Exact coordinates are being transmitted on a secondary channel.”

“Very well,” Cat answered, putting enough annoyance into her voice to sound convincing.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the comm. returned and she scowled at it.  “Planetary Defense out.”

“Thanks for nothing,” Cat whispered to herself and pulled her fighter around to take the course suggested, thinking that it couldn’t have broken too many bones for them to be less brusque.

It only took a minute to move around to the city and she smiled as she slowed down to turn over it and go back down to the spaceport.  And then it was time.

“Split into wings, break, and attack,” she transmitted and broke away to the west with Money and Pincher following.  To the east, Mask, Wheezy, and Eyes made up the other wing, as they all dove on their target.  First the turrets opened up, sending laser pulses and flechettes into the massive structure, followed by a dozen graviton beams ripping into it, flinging building armor in every direction.

Then the alarms started and she saw defense turrets begin to roll out onto the landings to engage them.  Now the fun was going to start.  She rolled her fighter around and shot down on the building again, laser pulses and flechettes chewing up the sides of the building all the way.  That was when the defense turrets opened up and she felt her fighter shake as one of them hit.  The fun was definitely on.