The Garden in the Darkness | Part 2: Complications & Card Castles | Chapter 14
Pilot-Major Ioane pulls her darter up out of the small moon’s orbit and into formation behind the darters of her wing-sisters. She double-checks that all of her gauges are still showing the right numbers, then turns around to grin at her reluctant Florivan copilot. “Five moons down, one to go… quite the melon patch you’ve got here, Nyx!”
“If they were my sort of melons, we could resolve this with the simple application of an appropriate herbicide.” Nyx gives her just the smallest hint of a teasing smile in return.
“Point taken!” Ioane laughs for a moment, then turns the majority of her attention back to watching the wing-gestures of the other two darters and her flight information displays. Following Penny’s lead to keep the formation in line is simple enough—reflexive, even, considering how long the three of them have been flying together.
After a brief silence, Nyx’s eyes meet hers in their reflection in the front of the darter’s canopy bubble. “Do you think there’s any chance we won’t find a melon on the last moon?”
“The way things have gone so far today? I’d say it’s slim.” Ioane shakes her head slightly. “Just means we’ll have to take all of them out after we get the first one, that’s all.”
“…And means that the things the Novans were doing here are more important than Reba and I ever suspected.” From the sound of it, Nyx does their best to stifle a sigh.
“Y’all had no way of knowing about it,” Ioane points out. She pauses to adjust her speed a touch now that they’re further out from the fourth moon. “I’d wager they’d have turned Mayview into a stealth base by now if you hadn’t been keeping up your little jungle, too. The Fleet owes you both a debt for that—beyond the one for not finding you sooner.”
A glance up at their reflection tells her that Nyx is staring out at the stars again. They’ve been doing that in silence off and on for most of the tour of the moons. She’s not sure if that’s entirely to do with them being Florivan and needing to keep themself oriented with where they are in space, or if there’s something more to it.
“Hmm… Possibly? I… wouldn’t be sure we’ve made that much of a difference.”
Ioane knows that tone of voice, though, even if she’s only known Nyx for two days now. She can’t claim to understand exactly what everything they’ve gone through has been like, but having all of it dredged up and fresh on their mind can’t be comfortable. A memory of her own of dear friends now lost flits through the part of her mind that isn’t focused on flying—ones who would have known what to say, for sure. She takes a breath and dismisses the thought. SCV Athene’s fall was long enough ago now that she can manage to do that without much difficulty.
The dismissal comes with both the expected echo of a certain psychologist friend’s bell-toned voice encouraging her to make time to reminisce with the girls later and a delightfully absurd idea for the present moment. It’s too good a thought not to try running with it.
“Say,” Ioane asks, turning back to Nyx again, set on distraction since the two of them still have a few hours worth of work to do and a darter is hardly the place for dwelling on anyone’s past. “Want to try your hand at this for a minute?”
The offer has the desired effect, if the sudden, shocked twitch of Nyx’s ears is any indication. “What? You can’t be serious.”
“We’ve got a nice straight shot to the last moon, and about oh… twenty minutes before we get to a point where I have to actually do much. I can talk you through the basics, easy!”
Nyx’s three golden eyes are wider now than she’s ever seen anyone’s. “I’m not sure that’d be wise…”
“I promise I won’t let you crash! Besides, I’m right here to take the bird back if you need me to.” Ioane smiles to them in the most encouraging way she can. “It looks like you’re going to be flying with me quite a bit over the next few days, Nyx—I like knowing my copilots know how to pick up if I need them to. Makes me feel safer.”
Nyx hesitates, a light swish of their tail punctuating their words when they finally do speak. “Reba was right about you darter pilots having very different definitions of ‘safe’ from the average human, you know?”
“We take pride in it!” Ioane stifles a giggle. “Takes a bit of an odd sort to want to fly these birds for a living to begin with. So, is that a yes?”
“Well…sure.” Once again, just a hint of a smile crosses Nyx’s face. “Just for a minute or two, though, Abigail—and I still don’t understand why you want to show me.”
“Great! Just let me warn the girls.” Ioane turns back to her controls and pulls down the microphone bar from her headset. “Just a heads-up, Penny,” she calls, “I’m set on giving my copilot a quick flying lesson as long as we’re out here. You mind?”
“I heard—of that. S—gain?”
It takes three repetitions of the question and answer before the two of them are able to understand everything through the interference and Ioane has her clearance. Subtly enough that only she could tell outright, both of her wing-sisters move to loosen the formation so they can all slow down to a more leisurely cruising speed.
“There we go!” Ioane flips up her microphone bar again. “The girls are going to let us take point for a bit—they’ll match us, so don’t worry about trying to fly around them or keep up or anything like that.”
“I’ll… try not to. You’re sure about this?”
“I’m sure! It’ll be fun!” Ioane chuckles. She’s only ever given one impromptu flying lesson that didn’t include a healthy amount of nervousness on the part of the copilot. Granted, that had been Celadon, and they have the sort of personality that would have made for an excellent darter pilot had they been human.
“If you say so…” The hint of amusement in Nyx’s tone bodes well, at least, even if the rest of their voice seems to be apprehensive.
“I do! Now, copilot’s controls are split into the two flip-out panels on either side of you—right is weapons, left is flight. Conveniently, you’ll only need the left set and the holoscreen display that should be projecting in front of you now…”
One brief explanation of the flight controls later, and she’s got Nyx showing more interest than nerves.
“All right… and you’re sure you want to let me have control of this ‘bird’ of yours?”
“Sure! Gives me a chance to relax for a few minutes. Now, I have master override if I need it, and I can switch back to control from up here whenever I need to, but the manual switch for you to take them is that analog button on the top of the panel. Sort of an ‘emergency precaution’ thing that we hardly ever use, but it’s useful for training folks.”
“Hardly ever use?”
“Well, we’re not one of the squadrons who typically have copilots to fly with.” Abigail laughs. “Much less ones who end up needing to fly. Now, I’ve set the speed regulator so you won’t be able to go any faster than this. Ready?”
Nyx lets out a nervous bell-like laugh. “No, but go ahead.”
“She’s all yours!” Ioane switches her darter over to copilot control, bracing for the inevitable jerk to one side and sideways rolling that first-time fliers tend to pull on accident.
She’s not disappointed.
“—Ease out of it, Nyx, you’re doing fine!” She chuckles, remembering all too well her first tries at keeping a darter in line. “Smooth motions work better, especially from back there.”
“…Smoother?” Nyx over-corrects to the other side, twisting the darter into a roll the other way.
“Small movements give you big results, especially because we’re in microgravity.” Ioane turns her to the darter’s readouts just in case she does need to take back the controls. “You have to feel the bird as an extension of your body.”
“Right…” She hears Nyx take in a breath and slowly let it out. Within moments, the darter is righted to a steady position and flying forward.
“Stellar! Just keep on like that—now slowly turn us back in the direction of the last moon. Your holoscreen guidance display should have that up to show you where it is, but since you have a sense of where all of the celestial bodies are anyway, feel free to use that instead.”
“You have far too much faith in my abilities, Abigail.” Nyx sounds like they’re relaxing in spite of their protests.
“I’d say I have precisely the right amount of faith in them!” She turns back briefly with a grin for emphasis.
Nyx just twitches an ear at her and keeps all of their attention focused on the controls.
“Just do your best to head us in the right direction. It’s…” Ioane has to pause to pull up a conversion chart. “You’d call it six by four-E and twelve, I think, from here.”
“Ah… four-A, actually, assuming you’re calculating that with Mayview as the primal… and what, the first three moons and your sisters as cardinals?”
“That was the attempt. Forgive me, Nyx,” she says, “I’ve had about four days of actual Nav training—long story, that—the rest of my knowledge comes from trying to help Sarge double-check his ‘homework.’”
“It wasn’t a bad attempt, Abigail. I’d say you could pick up and learn to be a good Navigator far more quickly than I’ll ever learn to fly this thing.”
“I’ll take that as a high compliment.”
“It is one. Now, how do I turn, again?” Nyx lets out another nervous laugh. “We seem to be heading in entirely the wrong direction at the moment.”
“Gently,” Ioane replies, “like you’re leaning on the tip of the wing…”