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THE AIR BITCH JOINS THE WAR OF THE ROCKS
By Jim Gardner
Bulletin from GNN: With the whole galaxy from which to draw, is any single mineral deposit worth fighting over? Why is a war necessary, why the Grenpol Titanium Mine, and why now? Stay tuned to Galactic News Net. More after the commercial break…
Janet Knoland looked away from the two by three meter public video screen hanging on the north side of the hundred-year-old new courthouse wall and knocked a few crumbs from the sleeves of her flight suit; lunch, a bagel with strawberry laced cream cheese. Her stomach murmured a quiet thank you.
She walked around the square and spoke to herself yet again, “GNN says they can’t use me. Galactic News Net doesn’t want a brilliant young, may I add attractive, reporter. Hey GNN! Dirty ol’ titanium is more valuable than gold and silver put together and the Grenpol Titanium Mine is the galaxy’s richest known deposit. Hint: spaceships are made from it. Duh.
“Some of those idiot announcers make the audience guess stuff like that. That’s why GNN needs me and Pookie.”
Janet keyed her wrist FONE ‘N’ ALL. She mumbled on: “AND, Flight school’s ‘we find jobs for all grads’ policy is great on paper but,” one last touch screen touch and she read: Inquiries made, 1206; all replies pending or negative. “Not even,” she said. “This sucks.”
The light changed and Janet started across the street. “Why are all those people looking at me? I must still be talking to myself; out loud as usual.”
She rocked her head from side to side, “Where? Oh, where did that top secret military targeting computer go?”
“Here’s one, right here strapped to my thigh. I love my Pookie.” Janet lifted her right leg and stood on her left like a crane. The light changed, “Walk” became “DON’T WALK.” Horns honked. She mumbled, “Thinking-bird pose; activate stolen thigh strapped navigation and targeting computer converted to personal use. It’s only sort of stolen; flight school promised one, included and covered by tuition. They didn’t say which one, sooo...” Icons marched across the screen. She touched GNN, Galactic News Net’s logo, then AD’s and ‘HELP WANTED.’
“For me? Thank you, Universe.”
Mercenary combat and transport pilots needed The Grenpol Miners’ Guild’s negotiations with management has at long last become an armed parley.
For info E-gram: gren-mine-gu@GALpac/backtowork
“The Greenies have such a way with words, ‘armed parley.’” Janet smiled.
A huge police officer put his face too close to Janet’s: “They do indeed. May I ask why you are standing in the midst of the crosswalk on one leg? If you don’t move on, I’ll be writing a ticket, I will. The fine’s been upped a thousand you know. So many entities blocking crosswalks now-a-days standing on single appendages; there’s a regular epidemic, there is. How about it?”
Janet grimaced. He was joking wasn’t he?
In an alley, safely, and almost comfortably, seated between two homeless individuals: a maybe-a-man, and a maybe-an-earth-person, Janet completed the job application and pressed SEND.
“They want me!”
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Atlantic Orbit Shuttle-Port, and Lunar Dark Inter-System Spaceport all moved right along with a ‘thank you for traveling with us,’ and only a ‘watch your step’ or two.
The flight to the Grenpol System was pleasant enough as was Grenpol Deep Space Orbital Depot and Grenpol City Airport although the latter smelled like The Stale Pot Puree Graveyard. But in true welcome to Grenpol fashion The Omnibus Boards Here station stank outright. The bus, car and pedal-bike-rickshaw rides were open air and tolerable.
The rickshaw operator smiled. Why not? His (or her?) ride back was all downhill. “Missy, war gone on; closely close, over there.” It pointed; then held out an appendage palm up.
“Right, buy low sell high.” The three kilometer walk uphill to the mine got all the kinks out and then some.
She stumbled onto asphalt. The runway stretched a goodly hard surfaced swath into the comfortable distance. The open pit titanium mine itself paralleled the runway’s east edge providing a view downward dropping into a definition of vertigo so vast that Janet locked her gaze on the runway’s markings to steady her balance.
Earth-like to a fault, just as the travel brochures promised; but this place sat stark and sterile under a cool sun. Deep in the mine a few clouds played about a dark metallic artifact: thin, tall, and still. A banner several meters across flew from its top; Grenpol Miner’s Guild.
There lounged only one flying machine on the whole airfield. The plane looked like a trainer from 1940; bi-winged, sturdy, and what Brother Buck used to call slow-good. The operations building was a tent with its own banner the size of a junior league basketball. It waved a bit, then collapsed down along its short stanchion.
Janet really didn’t intentionally insult the aircraft but truth has a way of coming out and sticking around simply because it’s really there. “That’s not fast enough to get out of its own way.”
“We gots decoy for you. You like?” He would have been curling his moustache if Greenies possessed facial hair, but he was twirling an ear lobe instead. The scene, definitely not boy meets girl, greatly resembled: villain briefs accomplice.
“Two hundred, my ell, Kilo, or some such per Earth hour. Fast like diarrhea from ‘Eat at Joe’s.’ Resume’ say: you fly train-her like this,” the operations’ chief beamed.
“We flew the Seven-Sixty Air-Witch, a two place plasma-jet trainer,” Janet winced and watched oil drip from the antique. She smelled av-gas too.
“Yes, yes Air Bitch very good-nice.”
Is he talking about me or that monstrosity over there whizzing lubricant on the tarmac?
Janet spoke to herself in soothing tones: “Not a bad flight; the plane’s engine is still running. Weather’s benevolent. Plenty of gas; life is good. Right?” This is slow motion suicide, she thought
“Stupid. Stupid, stupid!” Janet banged her helmeted head against the bi-plane’s instrument panel. I can’t even hear my own bitching. Why did I do this?
A curly-q interface wire ran from her knee computer and plugged into an antique circuit breaker panel adorned with lots of gray tape. Electrical stuff; it wasn’t a system, just things with wires.
On her video display, essentially a lap top taped to the instrument panel’s glare shield hood, two hostile blips “popped up” directly underneath the heading:
COMPUTER RADAR [not installed]
The impromptu video display cum lots-o-tape all came within an eyelash of blocking the movement of the bi-birdy’s power controls; its prop and throttle levers.
NOT INSTALLED has detected something. The taped-up laptop showed two supersonic aggressors changing course. I wonder who programmed this; GIGO INC?
The bad guys see me from three hundred, not nautical but English, miles away. This is as confusing as shit flavored ice cream. Janet’s finger touched and her mind double checked. The airspeed indicator reads in miles per hour, normal enough; altimeter's in feet; okay. And... They’ll be within shooting range in two minutes, if that’s statue miles and not kilometers. What if it ain’t miles? Kilometers; thermometers; it don’t matter, it’s time that matters: maybe less than one minute.
“Okay stupid girl, time to launch the drones.” The stolen, up-graded, knee computer received a few quick key punches. The green “EXECUTE GO” illuminated.
She touched it. Her flying machine shuddered from the release of four pre-programmed drones. No longer even close to overloaded the bi-birdy nosed up into an impromptu climb.
Reset trim or continue? Janet pushed the prop up to MAX RPM and added full throttle. A straight up climb couldn’t last long. She continued pulling aft stick but as she began to go inverted she also rolled to get back to level. The drones and the launch craft now flew in opposite directions. She nosed down a bit and accepted a slow decent to get away faster.
More computer key taps revealed drones numbers two and three speeding towards the target, drone number one cruising leisurely dropping Liar’s Fog, thousands of mini-radio transmitters and heat sources that created false images for the defenders’ radars and infrared. The result would look like an hundred plane raid and last thirty minutes.
Drone number four followed two and three riding shotgun for its cousins.
“I’m going to die!” Janet wailed. “This pig has got one, count them one defensive shot. It’s so slow a turtle with a slingshot can nail me. No oxygen, I’m at 15,000 feet. I’m dead.”
Radio transmissions crackled in her helmet’s earphone, “Grenpol Miner’s Guild Operations calling decoy. You dead yet, Missy? You dead yet? I mean, you launch yet?”
“Grenpol Ops, Decoy One is normal launch at four five. Target acquired from Galactic Weather Satellite No 3’s GPS and confirmed using planetary magnetic field. They’re tracking normal. The warheads all show armed. I used Pookie, I mean my knee computer, to set up the internal, mechanical-inertial, target-guide-nav thingy on the missiles. Jamb or recall is no longer possible.
“You confuse. You brick ice cream with real brick,” Grenpol Ops gasped for breath. “What you do? Where you at? Nav-thingy not installed. Over!”
“I took my shot. I’m heading back." Even with no one to see Janet rolled her eyes. A couple of nav-thingies must have stowed away along with the radar.
Her knee computer vibrated and both spoke and printed its message across a hard to see, thigh-strapped screen. Three words flashed red:
“WEAPONS SENSOR LOCK”
Pookie the computer continued to augment the display in a business-like manner:
OPPONENT: 2 [TWO] Plasma jet fighters [Type: J-45]
AVAIL WEAPON: 1 [ONE] rear firing, airborne, ship to ship.
A.S.S. ROCKET: locked on lead fighter.
Business as usual no longer existed for Grenpol Ops. “Radar see you under attack. What happen? You confuse. Make ‘not installed’ work. Why Air Bitch not dead? Over!”
Janet’s mind purred like a lioness, I’m not dead, YET Greenie. I hope the ass-rocket works.
More computer strokes. The green “EXECUTE/GO” illuminated. A quick touch, then throttle idle, mixture full rich; the engine misfired. If something that big left my butt, I’d backfire too.
Unfamiliar smells assaulted Janet, “What kind of oil am I smelling? What’s going on with the engine? I’ve got to get out of the sky! I’m a hippopotamus-sized target stuck in mud. Giddy up, Air Bitch!”
She reentered a vertical climb; after ten eternities straight up, the aircraft finally experienced a wing stall. She kicked full rudder and pulled the stick into her navel to hold the spin. The obedient bi-birdy dropped like a greased toolbox, and chased its own tail in doggish frenzy.
Thickening air, increasing pressure pressed her ears and chest. She popped her ears over and over and over.
Computer showed: A.S.S. HIT and TARGET GONE
Everything seemed gray-fuzzy, so soothing, so…
Janet regained consciousness in a dive, with her first flight instructor’s voice playing in her head: “If you ever black out, you will let go of the controls all at the same time, any airplane attempts to recover itself to the last trimmed attitude, that means nose up, tail high, or whatever you cranked in with the trim wheels; remember? And if you’re lucky, you might even wake up and regain control before ground impact.”
A crunchy-sticky full throttle application provided a wheezy cough, “Carb heat, carb heat.” She screamed. The control moved with deceptive speed, but the ice in the engine's windpipe didn't.
Several recycles of the throttle improved its ease of movement. But produced only a muffled far-and-away spit-grumble, then a cough, and another and...
Soon, half a dozen exhaust stack explosions shot fire over and beside Janet’s head proving the engine received fuel and ignition. What else might be nearing normal and prolong her life?
The roar of the motor revived all five senses and her soul sighed as well. I didn’t see any parts fall off. It can’t be all bad.
Computer scan blinked with technologic confidence:
MASTER WARN, blinked red:
“J 45 SKY SWEEPER” showed steady,
Along with the kiss-your-dead-ass-goodbye icon blinking slow and cold:
OPPONENT HAS WEAPONS’ LOCK
Straight off her nose a dot swelled. The plasma-jet fighter’s weaponry hung from its wings like huge breasts. Thoughts wrestled in Janet’s mind. Words formed too: assault by airborne sex symbol? Give me a break! I’m dead.
Flashes of light and coils of vapor trailed, all ended in smaller explosions. And the J 45 ruptured vomiting wreckage from its air intake and extruding flaming liquid from its exhaust. The groaning wreck staggered into a flat spin and fell away.
Drone Four rocked its wings in victory as if a flesh and blood pilot crouched within. Drone One pulled adjacent its sibling rocking its wings too. Both neared and flew alongside the bi-plane forming a mercenary’s formation: same day, same way.
Janet shook inside her flight suit, “Beer, beer. Here beer.”
Her knee computer’s video screen showed a full color glass beer bottle sweating condensation. Somebody has a sense of humor.
The Air Marshall looked dumfounded, “You back? You not dead? Plan go wrong. City gone too. How you do?”
“Here’s the data, mashed potato.” Janet tossed a flash drive on the worn out card table that served as his desk. “The Confederacy’s surveillance satellite confirms I hit both targets the city and the airfield. Even the escort drones made it back. The Air Bitch needs beer, Green-boy.”
“You not dead? T’sk-um, t’sk, not dead. Not dead.” The Grenpol operations officer twirled his earlobes.
“If you keep that up, you’re going to hurt my feelings.” Janet tried to pull off her helmet. It stuck to her hair which clung to her head. “Oh the perils of woman-kind. T’sk, t’sk, yourself, Green-o. Earth woman needs beer! Pay up!”
“Scan retort first,” the Air Marshal activated his computer which produced a 3D video-hologram filling half the tent. “Ooo, ahh, my-you,” he was impressed.
“Retort? Did you really say ‘retort?’” Janet wasn’t, impressed that is. “Beer money; give Air Bitch beer money.”
The bar wasn’t impressive at all but the smell of beer and earth tobacco smoke permeated the nitrogen-rich Grenpol air. “Yo, ho, ho, a promotion and I got promised a Mach plus fighter with a rotor-slugger, real bullets, and everything. Hey, nobody cares because nobody speaks Galactic Common around here.”
Janet said the Grenpol word for hero and heroine, but only produced two raised noses and a sniff that came from a Greenie with nasal congestion. The bar patrons didn’t even belch. “Give me a break. No wonder GNN doesn’t have a job for me, a bad cold gets more attention; someone else’s bad cold. I’m the hero that’s winning the war, people. I mean Greenies. Ah, the news.”
All twelve of the bar’s video screens from the twelve centimeter screen in the corner booth to the six meter screen hovering over the bartender shared a breaking news bulletin, GNN took command:
The War of the Rocks took a nasty turn today. The Grenpol Miner’s Guild destroyed Grenopolis and with it the only munitions factory on Grenpol. An air force base along with its airfield and support facilities was also destroyed. The Miners Guild’s Air Marshal said, [his image grimaced on the screen] “We no do. Big mistake on someone. Four day work week we all back dig-dig.”
Janet counted money. Selecting a single bill, she put the roll of cash in her pocket. Paper currency on bar, Janet uttered one word, “Beer.”
No response; she slapped the bar, “Beer. Here beer.”
Now with the attention of the bar-keep she said, “Earth beer, please. Yeah, and one of those earth pretzels too. Thanks. ‘Beer’ really is a magic word,” Janet headed for a booth. Everyone else stood or sat transfixed by GNN:
The Galactic Confederacy’s military think tank on Earth is crediting a stolen military grade targeting computer with the carnage. But the type in question is known to be useless in robotics or other autonomic applications and special training is required for its use and special codes. That means a military trained sentient operator pulled the trigger.
“Pushed the buttons. If you get one straight from the box you get to select the use, the codes, passwords, et cetera yourself. Don’t we Pookie?”
Janet’s knee computer beeped in friendly agreement.
“And you’re only just the teeniest bit self-aware,” Janet sipped beer.
“Greenies suck. Go miners,” said the computer. “Can I have a beer?”
“May; I have a beer. Hey, bartender!”
r.tornello - I love this story, I really do. I've read it a few times. It should be a movie, a short one or what ever the the director feels is best but by god I love it for some insane unfathomable reason. RT
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