The folder hit the table with a heavy thud.
"Alright crew, here's the plan." A stallion, somewhere north of sixty, paunchy around the middle but with a high and tight salt and pepper mane stood before the small contingent. "Most of you know me already, for those of you that don't. You may call me Security Chief Lightning Rod."
The small crew, a dozen in total sat in oversized chairs in the forward lounging area of the pleasure yacht "Baliza". They had been lazing about until the security chief silenced them. The white and red folder which contained that trips logistical and security plans, also known as the flight plan sat silently on the table. A few of them however still only watched the proceedings through tired eyes. They, like their chief had done this run before, a quick hop through some of the outer planets, a couple stops, see some moons that the tourists loved and then back to Freyja station for offloading.
"Right... now for you newbies, we are going to go around the room and everyone is going to state their name something about yourself." Lightning Rod said, looking over the group. Only five new crew this time around, he thought to himself privately. Not a huge turnover, but with newbies there was always a chance of someone doing something stupid. "Lets start with you." he said and pointed at a mare to his left with a hoof.
The mare in question wore a bright blue jumpsuit that clashed magnificently with her short cropped and neon orange mane. "Alright then" she said as she stood, "My name's Aqua Flux. I've been a pilot for just shy of a decade, flew a Garren "Centipede" for a few years, doing cargo runs between Freyja and the colonies before joining up with the Royal Equestrian Navy. during that time I was switched to the E-31M and I flew that for another four years on reconnaissance sorties. I was honorably discharged from the REN a year ago, It's a ple-"
"R-E-N, hunh?" Drawled a heavyset griffon from down the line, cutting her off. He wore a light grey jumpsuit with blue trim, the standard garb of the yachts security crew. "What Regiment?"
Aqua was a little perturbed but responded quickly, "First Observation Legi-"
"You're a Stargazer?!" The griffon burst out laughing.
There were a few murmurs and awkward shifting among the rest of the assembled crew at the griffons outburst.
"Hey Rod, I think we might need a new orbiting detail. This one's all starry-eyed." he wheezed out, clearly overcome with his absolutely hilarious joke.
Aqua for her part had slowly sat back down in the oversized chair, allowing her close cropped mane to fall forward over her eyes.
"Stow it Preen." Lightning Rod said, his jaw set in a tight line. "Right, no more outbursts. Just your name and something interesting." He nodded to the next person in line and the ritual continued.
Too hot, that's how it felt in the just ever so tight jumpsuit that Aqua was wearing. At least, introductions had gone swiftly and without any more shenanigans by the rest of the crew. She sighed and laid her head against the side of the cool refreshment dispenser, wondering for just a moment if it would be easier to request a new jumpsuit or to lose a few pounds.
Aqua Flux heaved a sigh and turned from her comfortable spot at the refreshments dispensary towards the voice. A voice she quickly deduced as belonging to the Security Chief Lightning Rod. "Ah! Oh, uh... chief, how can I help you?" she said, snapping to attention as best as she could while stumbling over the finer bits of shipboard etiquette.
He gave a short laugh and patted her on the shoulder with a hoof, "I meant no offense by it. I knew a few of you during my days. Although, I will say this. I don't want you and Preen having it out in range of the guests, and if there's a problem. Bring it to my attention before things get out of hoof, understood?"
"Understood, Sir." she gave a quick smile.
The machine behind her gave a soft beep, indicating her drink. A strong black cup of something resembling sludge, was ready.
"Ah, I uh... need to grab that." She said, and swiped the mug with a hoof. It's cool temperature radiating into her and assisting to calm her nerves.
Lightning rod eyed the mug with a unnerving understanding of that deep dark liquid. "Understood. Well, you have your berthing and we are due to push off at S.E.T 1300."
"Standard Equestrian Time, Sir?" Aqua was a bit perplexed.
Lightning smiled, a few off color teeth stood out like mismatched console controls. "Try getting planeteers to understand anything other than what they grew up on and you will have people showing up for breakfast at dinner time. Now, I have some final checks to run and you have four hours to do with as you please. Do make sure to have your pre-flight completed and filed before departure though. Management likes to keep their records clean, in case of accidents." He patted her on the shoulder before trotting off towards the lift at the far end of the observation deck.
Aqua watched him go, before looking down at the dark liquid, and taking a swig. It's enormous caffeine content setting her teeth on edge, and making them feel just a tad fuzzy. "Right... well, lets get to it then."
Aqua looked over the sparse but utilitarian accommodations, Two bunks crammed in close proximity to the ceiling and what she assumed was a storage area, beneath. That was... well not really all that unexpected, her berthing in previous stations had barely qualified as "Regulation grade living space". She shrugged her rucksack to the ground, grateful for the heavy rugged saddlebags to be free of her hind quarters.
"Ok... First things first." It took moments for Aqua to locate her personal storage compartment on the wall beneath her bunk. She punched in her personal access code and the door slid to the side, revealing a compartment primarily filled with a pair of small refrigeration units. The space between them however had just enough room to fit her rucksack, and as she shoved them in she was grateful for actual stowage, rather than just say, having to sleep with them. The memory of tiny transport jumpers was still fresh in her mind, and she wasn't sure if that bruise was going away anytime soon.
After a quick check to make sure the storage compartment closed comfortably, without crushing the contents within she decided it was as good a time as any to pick up her helmet. An Equestrian pilot's helmet, was of course their life, literally in most cases. As she strode from the tiny cabin to the nearest lift she reminisced on when she had first acquired hers, It was a warm spring day, Just over a decade ago...
The book hit the desk with a heavy thud.
Aqua Flux, flight school trainee shot up with a snort, and blinked the sleep from her blurry eyes.
"Ms. Flux, can you remind the class how one may pull out of a high G uncontrolled spin in atmos?" said the instructor. She had long forgotten his name, but she remembered that fat face, beady eyes and pushed in snout of a pony who had taken one too many consoles to the face in high impact crashes.
"Of course, Sir." she took a moment to gather herself. "The first thing one must do is..."
It was at this moment that as with many students through history, that she was saved by none other than the class dismissal bell.
The rest of the students, blurry blobs at the edge of her vision scurried out. But the fat face still remained in focus.
"Your helmet, Ms. Flux." said the fat face.
She looked down and in her hooves, a blank helmet. She was on a stage, a ceremony. That's not how it had gone though...
She had received it during her next class. It was one of her favorite memories, feeling the control surfaces on the interior of it's shell with her ears for the first time. Getting to take it into the simulator, scoring those first few marks...
"You are, Ms. Aqua Flux?" said the fat beaked face.
"What? Oh, yes! That is me. I must of gotten lost in my head for a moment. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name." She smiled awkwardly as she craned her neck back to look up at the... well she wasn't quite sure what it was. Bipedal, and standing a good three heads above herself, covered in what looked like feathers poking out from around the edges of it's immaculate blue and gold uniform.
The fat beaked... bird... thing... simply stared at her. "Chief Steward Okra and before you ask, I am a parrot. Not as you might think, a griffon."
She smiled and stuck out a hoof, before she realized he was holding a sealed crate bearing her personal seal between his claws. "My helmet!" she cried out, and grabbed the crate with her hooves.
"Yes, it made it through customs without incident. Come," he said and turned with a flourish. "We must get it hooked into the ships systems."
"Of course!" Aqua said and stowed the crate on her back, with it's assuring weight the apprehension of the day drained from her slight frame. It took her a moment to realize Okra had already walked off down the hall and she was forced to make a few quick strides to catch up to him.
The lift doors slid open with a soft woosh, and as Aqua stepped out onto the railed catwalk she noticed several things. First and foremost, the powerful lights illuminating the bay in a wash of sun tinged light. Second, that as far as she could see the bay was spotless. Other than a few small repair drones, a couple of light maintenance craft and a single shuttle, the bay was empty.
"Strange..." Aqua said softly to herself. "Where's my ship?" she spied a set of stairs at the far end of the catwalk, leading to the hanger floor. And so, with little else to go on she headed towards them. It took her no time at all to reach the hanger floor, from her new perspective she could see a recessed door with a large window just to it's right which was previously hidden by the catwalk.
As she walked to the door she could make out in finely stenciled letters on the sliding door, "Flight Maintenance". Just to the doors left, a small keypad was visible. As she stared at it a thought from her onboard briefing snaked it's way back into her thoughts. A security code, simple enough she thought as she punched in the code. The door, as with that on the lift and come to think of it... every other door she had encountered so far, slid open with barely a sound.
Inside was a distinct difference from the cleanliness of the hanger, bits of consoles and wiring lay haphazardly across every surface. A half eaten sandwich on a plate dangerously close to the edge of a control station appeared just about ready to take a plunge to the floor. She gingerly pushed it farther onto the control station, away from a certain doom.
The mare stood in the quiet of the small control room, taking in the mess before noticing a small red light blinking on the control station. A quick glance told her it was an open communication line, so like any curious pony she pressed the talk button, "Hello? Is anyone there?" she said into the comm.
Only static greeted her for a moment, and then a gruff voice popped out of a built in speaker. "This is a secure channel, please identify."
She stared at the console for a moment before pressing the talk button. "This is Orbital, Designation Aqua Flux."
The voice quickly came back, "Confirmed, this is maintenance, designation Kupplung. Good to meet you Aqua Flux, I'm just finishing up on this test run. Have to make sure the stabilizer doesn't blow out, aye? Back in Fife Mit, make yourself at home."
The light winked out on the console, indicating line closure. "Five Minutes..." she breathed to herself. "Well, at least it's nice to know that the crew is keeping up with maintenance tasks. Might as well familiarize myself with their logs." it took only a moment to locate the consoles popup display and another to boot it up. Unlike the mess of the flight maintenance office the desktop was surprisingly clean, it took no time at all to locate the meticulously maintained maintenance logs and even less before a new warning popped up on the display.
"Warning: Re-entry Imminent, all personnel must evacuate flight deck." the overhead lighting in the maintenance office switched from the soft sunny tones to a harsh red, bathing everything other than the console in deep shadows. A klaxon began to sound, although Aqua noted it was not a standard Equestrian style. As she dug through her memory she couldn't quite place where she'd heard it before.
Outside of the maintenance office, the large exterior doors of the hanger cracked and began to open slowly, retracting above and below into the hull. Although it was standard to see on larger stations, even those of older designs. It was uncommon for such a small hanger to have it's own atmosphere shielding, she could make it out from the soft yellow light surrounding the edges of the doors as they retracted.
Finally, a small craft swung into view. Sunlight glinting off it's reinforced canopy as it made it's final lazy approach to the hanger. The ship dipped each side momentarily, reminiscent of pegasi victory laps before slowing to cross the atmospheric shielding. Landing gear popped out of hidden compartments on the underside, and it took position in the middle of the hanger. It set down with a soft thump as the magnetics kicked in, locking it into place.
The large hanger doors slid shut as the ship landed, cutting off the view of the stars beyond. Abruptly the klaxon died and the harsh red faded back to the sunlit tones. Aqua let out a breath she didn't realize she had been holding before pushing herself away from the console and to the door. As it opened she came face to face with the greasy chest rig of one griffon, standing a head and a half above her.
He spoke first, looking down at her from behind a beaked and enclosed helmet, feather patterns playing across the exterior. "I expected a pegasi. But no matter, you must be Aqua Flux." He stuck out a gloved claw in friendship.
She accepted with a hoof. "Kupplung, I presume?" she shook his hoof before returning to the moment. "That must be my ship?" She inquired, craning her neck around the wide griffon to take a better look.
"Ah! Yes, come." He smartly turned removing his helmet in the process and clipping it to his chest rig as he walked back to the ship, it's sleek frame dwarfing the large griffon. "An Abyssinian ASF-3MC "Felidae", comes with a pair of dual linked Panthera CL-4 cannons, single multi launcher and internal magazine holding up to six individual munitions." Kupplung pointed at each feature in turn as he walked around the sleek craft. "This particular model has been fitted with a Selenican Class 2 deflection generator. Although it won't take too many hits, It's better than nothing." He stops at the engine and claps a claw to the forward cowling, "Saddle Arabian Sabino G2.9, you're not going to find much faster outside of racers and military units, so... what do you think?"
Although the words had flowed in one ear and out the other for Aqua, she stared at the ship in awe. "It's... significantly better than I expected for this sort of contract, honestly. They didn't tell me much about what I would be flying, but I wasn't expecting this." Her eyes gliding over the smooth contours of the Superiority Fighter that she would be occupying for a good duration of the trip. "And the cockpit is configured for pony usage?"
"Of course, come let me show you." Kupplung said as he walked to the front of the craft. "So, the whole cockpit comes down, strait to the ground. The Abyssians have an odd design philosophy when it comes to these kind of things, but it seems to work for them." He taps on a control console above his head and with a slight hiss the entire cockpit descended from just behind the forward strut.
The seat itself is wide and comfortable looking, hoof controls appear to be in a standardized configuration. "You brought your own helmet?" Kupplung inquired.
"Of course, It's in my berthing. I can go and get it now." she replied as she looked over the control scheme, noting the removable and adjustable control setup. Due to the scuffing and minor scrapes around the individual units it appeared to of been adjusted more than once.
"Excellent, I shall pull up your personalized markings and have them added to the craft in the mean time." Kupplung smartly turned and disappeared into the maintenance room, the door whispered shut behind him.
"So then..." Aqua flipped her wrist towards her, checking the time on a small wristwatch. It's dark green display read 11:23. "One and a half hours to get washed, changed, final checks... Nap?" she shook her head, she was going to need more of her favorite dark sludge if she was going to make it the whole day.
Ships uniform... spiffy and check.
Aqua went over the list in her mind as she checked herself out in the bathrooms small mirror. She looked the part of a real pilot again, rather than a ragamuffin living on government handouts. Like she had been for the past year... but she quickly pushed that thought from her mind and took a cloth to her helmet.
It was, as she already knew. Clean, but she wanted to make sure it sparkled, even if no one would see it in the cockpit. A chime rang somewhere at the back of her mind, it sounded a bit hollow like a... there it was again. She snapped out of her own head and realized the chime was coming from the sleeping area. She poked her head out of the small bathroom and saw a small blinking light over the door to her room.
She flipped her wrist over, the small watch read 12:03. "Strange..." she said absentmindedly to herself as she clipped her helmet to her vest. She took a few steps over to the door and tapped its controls, the door slid open to reveal a stallion standing just outside her door.
"Decker," said the stallion with a voice like melted honey. "Ace Decker," he smiled and offered her a hoof.
"Uh..." she took a moment to look him over, the flight suit hid little. There was only one way to put it, the stallion standing in front of her was absolutely ripped. Two rows of absolutely perfect teeth peaked out from beneath the kind of mustache that made mares in old timey movies swoon. His mane stood at attention, perfectly groomed with not even a hint of gel. She realized she'd been staring for a moment and stuck out her own hoof, "Aqua."
Decker took it in his own and shook it vigorously. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance! I suspect we will be seeing quite a bit of each-other over the coming weeks." He smiled again with those stupid perfect teeth. "May I come In?"
"Sure?... I'm not quite sure wha--"
"Oh of course, how rude of me. I was dreadfully late, just about missed push-off." He said as he squeezed his bulk through the door and tossed a bag to the left bunk. "Ah, much better. What say we go meet with Roddy and get the itinerary?"
Aqua blinked and then blinked again. "Sorry, who's roddy? I think I missed something here. Who are you?"
"Roddy, Rod, Lightning Rod, my apologies. I forget that not everyone has flown with that old so and so. Ah! Well I thought Roddy had already gone over it with you, I'm your wingman."
"Wingman? Co-pilot? Come now, you didn't think you were the only pilot on this cruise?" His smile wilted slightly under her piercing gaze.
"I..." she softened her gaze and looked away suddenly self conscious, "I thought I was the only one on this trip..."
"Nonsense! Who would provide orbital when you slept?" Decker turned in the narrow compartment and stowed his belongings beneath his bunk. "Well, what say we go speak with Roddy and get everything sorted? I already saw your ship in the hanger, It's good they had that one kicking about, eh?" He flashed her a grin and with more speed than his bulk indicated he was capable of, he was out the door and down the hall.
She watched him go before sitting roughly on her haunches. Her helmet was still clipped to her rig, It had been scuffed.