Her work with the FBI completed, our heroine moves on.
I fired all of my maneuvering thrusters, spinning my fighter to starboard and putting it into a tight roll at the same time. Laser shots flashed through my old location as the remaining enemy ship missed its shot. Gunning my engines, I brought my ship around the large freighter that was the real target for that last enemy and his now vanquished buddies. Skimming the big ship’s hull, I caught the last ship making a cautious orbit of the freighter. With the target’s bulk masking my fighter, the lone bogey didn’t see me until I fired on him.
“You’re dead, Tom. Return to base,” the comm crackled. “Nice flying, Captain Martin. Please return to base, also.”
“Roger that, GenCo Control,” I said, falling in behind Tom and the other three starfighters in the ‘bogey’ force.
My comm buzzed, indicating a private channel. “This is Martin.”
“That was some impressive flying out there, Captain.” It was Tom, my last victim.
“Thank you, sir,” I responded.
“I was a lieutenant when I retired, ma’am. I can safely say I am in no way your superior.”
I laughed, “GenCo Human Resources is going to consider your opinion of me when deciding whether to hire me or not. You remain ‘sir’ until they make that decision.”
“Captain Martin, you could call me ‘asshole’ and I’d still tell HR to offer you the job before some other company scoops you up.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said, then we both switched off the private comm and gave all of our concentration to landing.
I was the last to set down and had both the fighter maintenance crew and the four ‘bogey’ pilots waiting for me as I climbed down from the cockpit. The maintenance crew began checking the fighter for damage even before my feet touched the deck.
The crew chief met me, data pad in hand. In a bored voice, he asked, “Anything to report, ma’am?”
“Yes, your ship isn’t properly tuned.” The chief’s head lifted in surprise as if he wasn’t expecting a mere job applicant to offer any criticism. I continued, “The starboard engine is producing about two percent less thrust than it should. At a guess, its reaction mass feed isn’t rich enough. Conversely, the reverse thrusters feed is too rich, causing them to hesitate for a fraction of a second when I took them from zero to one hundred percent thrust.”
The crew chief just kept staring at me, making no entries in his data pad. Back in my navy days, I’d rip a new one in any crew chief who did that. Could I do that now and still hope to land the job? If I couldn’t, I decided GenCo wasn’t the kind of company I wanted to work for.
“Did you get that, chief?” My voice echoed off the landing bay walls as I brought out my pissed-off-flight-commander voice. The man’s eyes widened in surprise at my tone, adding to my irritation. “In a real fight against a swarm of real enemies who are really trying to kill the pilot of this craft, those issues could spell the difference between life and death. When you and your team screw up this badly, you only pay with a bad mark on your record. The pilot pays with his life.”
I got up into the face of the crew chief, who took a step back in alarm. Poking the man in the chest to emphasize every word, I said, “So when I tell you about a problem, you write down everything I have to say and then you and your team check out the ship and keep checking it until the problem is fixed. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am!” the crew chief said. Then he started tapping on his data pad, muttering enough of it to show he was entering my comments.
I turned back to the pilots and found them all struggling to hold in laughter. They gave up once I looked at them.
“She got you, Stanley,” Tom said around his laughter. “And the look on your face was priceless.”
“Would someone let me in on the joke?” I asked.
“Chief Stanley always sets up some little issues with the fighter used to test applicants,” Tom said. “He says pilots don’t know crap about the ships they fly and this is his way of proving it. You just showed him how wrong he is.”
“Captain Martin showed me I was wrong about her,” Chief Stanley said. “That doesn’t let the rest of you flyboys off the hook.”
I spun back around to face Chief Stanley, my face red with anger again. “You send pilots out in ships you know aren’t one hundred percent ready to fly?”
“It’s never anything major, Captain Martin,” the chief said, holding his hands up in a placating manner. “Your ship was a fraction of a percent off, nothing more.”
“Tell me something, Chief.” I pointed across the landing bay to a hoist holding a starfighter engine while several technicians worked under it. “What would you call a pilot who fiddled with the hoist’s brake so it was ‘a fraction of a percent off’ while you were working under it?”
The man’s face paled. “That would be…irresponsible.”
I nodded, “Damned right. And that means what you’ve been doing with this starfighter is…?”
“Exactly.” I whirled at a muffled laugh from behind me. Glaring at the four pilots, I added, “What I truly can’t believe is that fellow pilots knew about this stupidity and didn’t do anything to stop it. If you were under my command, none of you would be laughing right now.”
Leaving all five men staring at me, I stalked to the locker. Fifteen minutes later, showered and dressed in my own clothes, I was still cursing the five men. I had, no doubt, ruined my chance of getting the job and decided to just follow my usual routine of slipping away unnoticed. Only that didn’t work this time.
“Captain Martin?” A woman I recognized as a member of HR waited for me outside of the locker room.
“I can find my own way out, thanks,” I growled.
Her eyebrows rose in surprise. “Are you no longer interested in the job?”
“After the scene in the docking bay, I thought GenCo might no longer be interested in me.”
Comprehension dawned on the woman. “Rest assured, that is not the case. I’ll admit the base commander is angry, but not at you.”
A few minutes later, the woman ushered me into an office. A woman I hadn’t met sat behind a large desk. She motioned to a chair without taking her eyes from her data pad. She kept reading for another minute or so before looking up.
“In all my years with GenCo, I don’t believe I’ve ever met a more qualified applicant for a job than you.” She glanced at the data pad. “Captain Quincy had nothing but praise for your time on the Phoenix. Everyone associated with the Ark 2 project speaks highly of you. Special Agent Hampton of the FBI says the only possible reason for not hiring you is because an idiot is in charge of HR. Our four test pilots and the crew chief concur. Indeed, they claim the tongue lashing you gave them is further proof we should hire you.”
“That is…gratifying to hear,” I said.
“No doubt,” the woman said. “While I like to think I’m not an idiot, I do have one concern I wish put to rest.”
“You’re afraid I’m an alcoholic,” I said.
“You do come right to the point, don’t you?” A ghost of a smile played across the woman’s face. “Yes, that is my concern. Considering your words after the test flight, I am certain you can see the problems inherent in putting a drunk in a state-of-the-art starfighter.”
“I can, and wouldn’t have accepted a job offer from GenCo if you hadn’t brought up this subject.” I paused to give the woman a chance to say something. When she remained silent, I continued, “The FBI turned on the alcohol scrubber in my implant for my recent assignment with them. I asked them to leave it on when I left. Furthermore, I am willing to have the navy give GenCo the access code to my implant so they can verify the scrubber remains active.”
“That, Captain Martin, is exactly what I wanted to hear.” A real smile appeared on the woman’s face. She tapped on her data pad before presenting it to me. “Is this offer acceptable?”
I scanned the details and fought hard to keep my eyes from popping out of their sockets when I saw the salary. It was three times what I made flying for the navy. I pressed the ‘accept’ button, let the pad take a retina scan, and handed it back.
“Welcome to GenCo, Captain Martin,” the woman said, offering me her hand.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” I said. “May I ask where I’ll be stationed?”
“We have a real need for someone of your skills at GenCo’s busiest station. Among GenCo employees, I’m afraid it’s known as the armpit of the galaxy. But it also draws more than its share of illegal activity, including a fair bit of piracy.”
“It sounds perfect for me, ma’am,” I responded. “What’s the place called?”
Author’s note: I’m going to take the rest of this week off and try to figure out what to write next. (Suggestions in the comments are welcome, btw.) The first chapter in my new novel—whatever it turns out to be—will be posted next Monday, September 5 (aka Labor Day).