The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Chapter Twenty-two: Enterprise
Sara delivered the moon
buggy that night, but made an uncharacteristic fuss over it,
like a teenager being asked to take out the trash. Then she
announced that she needed to take a vacation.
No coherent reason
was given, but Italy was what she had set her mind on. It was the
height of the European summer vacation season, and she said she
needed two weeks. Alex gave in at one week, making a lame joke
about little birdies flying from the nest. Dinah guessed the
attraction was the food — every region had its own unique
flavors and specialties, and Sara could never get enough in any
one local Italian restaurant. But Mrs. J knew the real reason.
Sara took her credit
card and a few clothes, which she stuffed into her cape. On
anything but a local flight, there was simply nothing else to
wear but her unshreddable uniform, unless she wanted to crawl
along at 55. Her
makers had pretty much thought of everything — it opened along
the side seam and any clothes she threw in got rearranged
somehow and came out cleaned and neatly pressed. Really
pressed, as in paper thin.
You couldn't tell from looking at the billowing cape that there was
anything in it, even though Jimmie had once tossed an old, rusty
Volkswagen bumper in there to see what would happen. It came out
cleaned and pressed, too.
When she came back,
she was her cheerful self again, so whatever she did seemed
to have worked for her. Naturally, Alex, Dinah and Mrs. J pumped
her for details. (Jimmie seemed to have disappeared.)
She'd met a bunch of
students in Rome who were taking a bicycle tour around the
Italian countryside. It was easy enough to get a beat-up old bike at a
pawn shop for practically nothing, along with enough baggage to
look the part of a student on holiday. Naturally, she spoke Italian
well enough to be taken for a native, and they didn't mind her
tagging along if she could keep up with them —
which she managed to do somehow.
They'd stayed at
youth hostels or sometimes just on the side of the road and ate
bread and cheese washed down with wine and sang to the stars
while Antonio played along on his guitar. Antonio — who had
such lovely eyes (she mentioned at least four times) — said
he'd write her, and she promised the same (though neither one
ever did). Despite Alex's uncomfortable misgivings about guitar
players in general — and young Italian ones in particular — it seemed that she'd just had a lot of good,
clean fun, finishing up the week in high spirits, with her companions exhausted,
sunburned and ready for school.
ominously asked her,
"You didn't happen to pass through Pisa, did you?"
Sara repeated innocently.
know," pressed Dinah, "As in 'The Leaning Tower of
Pisa'. Or, should I say, 'The Formerly Leaning Tower of
she replied, like it was no big deal. "I could tell when I saw
it that it
was gonna fall just about any second, so I went back and fixed it while the
others were sleeping."
surprised. "You fixed it?" He hadn't seen the
"Straight as a
plumb bob," Sara responded with a touch of pride in a job
He and Mrs. J
laughed, but Dinah was sternly disapproving. "You can't
just go around 'fixing' historical landmarks. A lot of people
around there could get hurt economically if your little stunt affects
tourism. You've got to think about consequences…"
"Is no big
hoo-hah," Mrs. J interrupted. "For vhile, anyvay,
tourists vith cameras comink to see miracle."
"It really was
messed up," Sara said defensively. "All the traffic
was vibrating the base full of teeny cracks deep inside where
nobody can see 'em. They had all these
big weights trying to counterbalance it, but that was just
making the cracks worse. It was ready to slide. I just
rearranged the ground underneath and it sorta floated upright.
They'd better get rid of the weights, though, or it'll lean the
Sara got Dinah's lecture
anyway, about responsibility and interfering in other peoples'
business just because she had the power to do so. What Sara thought of as a good deed could have unforseen effects on other
people, yadda, yadda, yadda…
She endured the
scolding with good grace and at least the appearance of
humility, but changed the subject as soon as she could.
She turned brightly
(too brightly) to Alex and said, "Coming home, I flew over
one of those ships like you used to be on in the Navy."
carrier?" he said with great interest. Dinah and Mrs. J
rolled their eyes to the ceiling and bailed out, leaving Sara to
face his eager reminiscences alone.
Dumb move, they
thought, fleeing. A good scolding would only be half as bad.
"They spotted me
as I went over. I was only about ten miles up and doing Mach 3 or
so and they thought I mighta been a missile — I could hear their
"Bet you scared
the crap out of 'em," said Alex gleefully.
maybe," she admitted with a sly grin. "Some of their
planes were flying around, so I played tag with 'em, especially
this one pilot who was a woman. She — her handle's 'Firefox' —
was really good. She kept trying to get close enough to
get a good look at me, but from a distance I probably did look a bit
pilots," Alex shook his head. "It's a mistake to
select for something so critical and demanding based on current
'politically correct' social theory. Pilots have to be
chosen for incredible reflexes and warrior instinct. Some of
these ladies made the cut simply because the Navy caved to
feminist pressure — which speaks to me of an essential
cowardice in our military leadership that frightens me. There
have been accidents because of it."
said Sara, "This woman pilot showed a lot of talent.
I'm a female 'pilot' myself, you know, and I can tell."
"Maybe so. There
sure weren't any women on ships when I was in the Navy."
were in the Navy," she teased, "There weren't any propellers
Sara said, "I wish I could have met her and told her that I
thought she was cool to do what she does so well."
landed on the ship and said 'Hi'. That
woulda given 'em a thrill."
"I thought about
it. I don't know — there's an awful lot of people on one of
those things, so it woulda been kinda obvious. I didn't think
you wanted me to do anything really public 'till after
Alex thought for a moment, then said, "Y'know — if you
did it just right, you could leave them with a really big
mystery to try to explain away. Heh — I can just imagine the
Captain trying to fill out a log entry."
The more he thought
about it, the more he laughed, until Sara was afraid he was
becoming borderline hysterical.
She said, "I
thought you liked the Navy."
he replied, "I like some of my memories, like any
'old-timer', but one of my memories is that I couldn't wait to
get out. I mean, I was just enlisted swine. Lower than low.
Scum. Whale snot. You can't understand what it's like, the whole
thing about officers. No way I could pass up a chance to
instigate a little payback."
He challenged her,
cocking an eyebrow above his smirk, "That is, if you think
you're up to it."
"You mean, use
me to pull some kind of prank so you can get 'even' with people
you never met, just because you don't like officers? I don't
straighten up the Leaning Tower — people will have a hell of a
time trying to explain that one — and now you get all
squeamish? If you take Dinah's lectures so seriously, you'll
never have any fun. I mean, she's basically right, but do
you want to turn out like her?"
how bad that sounded, he trailed off somewhat embarrassedly,
"Uh, as far as being some kind of
serious crusading avenger and all that, 'cause — actually — I really like
he went on, "As your official guide and sensei in earthly
matters, I have an ulterior motive which my vast experience in
these areas informs me I should not reveal to you, since,
'knowledge is the destroyer of fate,' as your buddy Gundolf
She sighed. Sara was
compelled to 'respect his opinions', even when they were
obviously stupid, but she wasn't actually required to
carry out his every whim. Still, he'd demonstrated plenty of
times that his gags had the effect of being tremendous learning
experiences and a lot of fun. Like the roundball incident. She'd
just have to be careful not to seriously damage the giant
"What d'ya have
"Think you can
find it again tomorrow?" he asked.
"Well, if it sinks in
deep enough water, it might take me an hour."
"OK, here's what
Petty Officer 3rd
Class Lester Emmert was up on the flag bridge when the first
report came in. It was nearly deserted since Admiral Piccardo
and most of his staff had flown home from Spain rather than ride
out the homeward bound leg of this deployment. Commander Ryker
was the only officer on 'duty', such as it was. There really wasn't much to do but
watch flight ops.
Everybody down in the
combat information center was still jumpy after yesterday's
close encounter with some kind of missile or UFO or whatever.
Word was that officially it was a falling satellite, but the
pilots swore it was playing tag with them — at twice their top
speed. One rumor called it a secret test of the latest Skunk
Kilanowsky down below
in CIC gave Walker a heads up on a bogie crossing their track
making 60 knots at 10,000 feet. He motioned Emmert over to his
console and pointed it out.
"At least it's
not another missle, not that slow," he told Walker.
they're all freaked out down there 'cause it popped up out of
nowhere just a couple or three miles out. No way it should have
got through the screen without gettin' picked up. Heads will
problem," said Emmert. "What is it?"
there knows. From the kind of blip they're getting, it's too
small even for a Cessna, which we're way too far out for anyway.
Could be an ultralight, but it would have had to have been
launched from a ship nearby, and there aren't any. Might be an
RPV, but not one of ours. Got no visual, just like yesterday,
'cause it's staying in the cloud cover — which civilians don't
like to do. Naturally, there's no IFF or radio response."
Ryker had come up
behind them, listening in. Anything that broke the boredom, even
a little bit, was a welcome relief.
Walker adjusted his
headphones and said, "Looks like we're gonna pass right
under it in a couple of minutes."
Ryker went out to the
weather bridge and reached for the binoculars. Emmert followed
him. There was nothing to see but clouds, the ship's scurrying
planes, and a couple of choppers — which seemed to be racing
toward a particular patch of high clouds dead ahead.
As the ship got
nearer, there was an unexpected flash inside
the cloud, like maybe from an explosion. A chunk of debris fell through the bottom seconds
later. There was some shouting down on the ship's bridge. All
the momentarily idle airedales on the flight deck craned their
necks to see what the fuss was about.
It wasn't debris. Or
if there was debris, it was too small to see. The chunk of
falling matter turned out to be a parachutist, only with his
chute just partially deployed.
Now there was a lot
of shouting, with men running around the deck pointing to
the plunging figure — who was evidently aiming for the ship.
acquired the swiftly moving image in his binocs and whistled
answered Emmert reflexively as he squinted into the bright sky
at the figure.
"It's a chick! I
mean — a girl… A young woman. Whoa!" Ryker would never
have tolerated such a lapse of PC-speak in a subordinate. He was
excited. "And that's no parachute. Looks like maybe a
Rogallo wing, but it's too small. And it's fubar somehow. Oh,
man! She's gonna try to land on the ship."
She passed the ship
to port, heading in the opposite direction as it moved swiftly
below her, then wheeled around in a graceful 180-degree arc,
evidently steering with her fluttering 'wing', making a classic
approach maneuver. Her forward velocity wasn't much more than
the ship's, but her rate of descent was alarmingly high.
By now, all of the
several hundred men who were watching were yelling, "Pull,
pull, pull!" She was running out of time to pop her reserve 'chute.
At the last possible
moment — as some of the crowd turned away in reflexive horror,
unable to watch her splatter — her 'wing' made a sail-like snap,
catching the gale that blew across the deck and slowing her in
an instant to a hard landing on the roughened steel that
just had to hurt — if it wasn't fatal.
She collapsed into a
low crouch, practically kissing the deck for an agonizingly long
moment before springing up, flinging her arms wide and smiling
for her audience, like a gymnast who had just stuck a perfect
dismount. Her 'wing' turned out to be no more than a big scrap
of cloth, a cape blowing behind her in the stiff breeze,
flapping dramatically above the third 'wire' that caught landing
After a brief moment
of stunned silence, the onlookers burst into cheers and applause
at her 4.0 landing. And her appearance.
Ryker grabbed the
binocs again and focused in on her. "Holy shit!" he
The mob on the flight
deck began to move in her direction as a single animal, like
fans streaming to surround some new champion with their admiring
homage, until the Flight Boss' amplified voice boomed out,
"Attention, flight deck personnel. We have not — I say again —
not secured from flight ops. The show's over, let's take care of
our business. Chief O'Ryan,
secure the area and then escort our visitor to the island."
The chief had been in
the van of the rushing throng. Reaching her quickly, he turned
to scowl at anyone who might be following, then gallantly
offered his arm to 'his' guest.
Ryker turned to
Emmert. "You," he pointed. "As of now, you're the flag runner. Grab the
duty belt and get down there ASAP. Find
out what you can and where they're gonna debrief her."
Emmert was having
trouble tearing his eyes from the scene below.
today," Ryker snapped. "Right fucking now."
Emmert snapped to,
"Aye, aye." He started off.
"And don't take
no shit," Ryker called after him. "You're not ship's company. You work for the
admiral, got it?"
Emmert trailed a
fading, "Aye, aye," behind him as he hurried through the
directly to me," Ryker yelled after him. Jeez, he
thought, What a doofus.
Emmert as he hurtled down the ladders, What an asshole.
He made it to the
flight deck next to the island hatch before anybody else and
watched the chief and the girl casually strolling toward him,
shouting conversationally at each other above the wind and
The girl was
definitely a babe, in every sense of the word — drop-dead
gorgeous, blonde hair flying, blue eyes
sparkling, and a thousand-watt smile born of pure joy. No more
than a teenager, but obviously confident, outgoing and fearless.
And her costume…!
Damn if it didn't look just like she'd stepped right out of a
comic book. His comic book. His somewhat guilty pleasure
and number one fantasy. He realized his mouth was hanging open
as she glanced at him and gave a little nod of acknowledgement.
His jaw snapped shut and he blushed deeply, feeling the sudden
heat in his face without knowing why.
A lieutenant (junior
grade) appeared with a couple of Marines to take charge of the
girl. "I've got her now, Chief," he said dismissively.
The girl gave the
beaming O'Ryan an appreciative peck on the cheek and then
followed the JG into the little island passageway, out of the
wind and most of the noise. Emmert trailed them, ignoring the
began the JG, very officiously, "I must inform you that you
are under arrest for unauthorized entry of a retricted military
facility, criminal trespass, federal security violations,
overflight of a restricted area, failure to file an approved
flight plan, criminal endangerment, interfering with military
operations, reckless behavior and attempted suicide, as well as
other charges that may be determined following an
investigation." He droned on with the military version of
her Miranda rights while she just stood there showing a cheerful
lack of concern for his dutiful pronouncements.
require that we handcuff you before proceeding to a holding area
where you'll receive a preliminary medical screening and
interview," he concluded almost apologetically, motioning
to one of the Marines.
replied diffidently, offering her wrists to the private. He
fumbled around before carefully fitting them to her. Her hands
dropped briefly and then came up again, holding the now
unfastened and obviously broken cuffs in front of her.
"Oh, my. I'm
afraid these aren't any good," she said, handing them
back to the Marine, little metal fragments falling from the
keyholes. "Got any in a nicer color?"
Nobody had quite seen
what happened, but Emmert thought he'd heard a faint crunching
sound. The private took the remains from her, shaking his head.
The JG looked at the other Marine, who shrugged his shoulders.
said the JG, "One of you is going to have to hold on to her
for the duration."
practically jumped out of their combat boots to grab an arm
each. The girl giggled prettily and succumbed to her capture.
As the little party
moved toward the ladder with Emmert following, the JG informed
him, "Return to duty, sailor."
visibly and replied, "Flag runner, sir. Commander Ryker's
orders. I have to report back to him as to what's going on and
where she's being taken."
"This is ship's
"Yessir. What do
you want me to tell Commander Ryker?"
"Tell him to…" the JG began, but thought better of it. "Look,
just buzz off, willya?"
Emmert knew the JG
had just blinked first. "No can do, sir."
The JG gave up and
hurried after the Marines with Emmert on his heels. They wound
up in Ready Room 4 with the Marines guarding the door, one
inside and one out.
They didn't have long
to wait before one of the Marines bellowed, "Attention on
deck!" and the Executive Officer, the Senior Medical
Officer and a yeoman entered the compartment. The JG said
something to the XO while pointing at Emmert, who overheard him
reply, "I don't want him running back to Ryker now."
He turned to Emmert
and said, "You're our witness. If our civilian guest here
decides to make any claims of official mistreatment or
harassment, she'll need your testimony. Understood?"
sir." Thank you, God.
The JG made the
introductions, "This is Doctor McCroy. He's going to make
sure you're fit to answer questions. And this is the ship's
Executive Officer, Commander Speck, who'll be in charge of this
preliminary interview. Yeoman Rande will be taking notes and
this enlisted man will witness the proceedings."
She looked at him
expectantly, so he replied, "Emmert, miss. Lester
She smiled at him,
"Pleased to meet you. May I call you Lester?"
He nodded enthusiastically,
like his head was attached to a spring.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Chekoffsky."
"My name is Sara
Corel. You can call me Sara," she told them.
The XO replied,
"On behalf of Captain James T. Klerk and the crew, welcome
aboard the USS Enterprise. Though I must say, as an uninvited
guest, I hope you realize that your actions have put you
in a great deal of legal jeopardy. You can't just drop in on a warship
any time you feel like it. We're going to have to keep you under
arrest until we get back to Norfolk and then turn you over to
the proper authorities to face some pretty serious charges. Do
you understand this?"
Sara replied, "But I really can't stay for more than a few
hours. I've got plans for this evening."
The XO raised his
eyebrows at this and looked at the doctor, who stirred himself
and said, "Ah, yes. Well, first things first. I'm just
going to give you a once over — to check for broken bones or
anything that might require medical attention…?"
She shook her head.
"And ask you
a few questions to make sure you're really with us." Which
he did, getting it over with fairly quickly, announcing,
"Clear-eyed and bushy-tailed — none the worse for having
dropped onto our steel home without a parachute. Maybe what
she did looked crazy, but I'll certify her as competent
enough to answer questions."
Bruskly, the JG
started in, "I'll need to see some ID."
"Gee, I don't
have anything with me. I don't really need a driver's license, I
left home without my credit card and, anyway, a
purse is kinda impratical, considering. Of course, there is
this," she said, pointing to the emblem on her chest.
Emmert couldn't help
but stare. When she glanced at him, he realized
that his jaw was nearly on the floor again. He nearly bit his
tongue off closing it. His face felt hot enough to set off a
The JG began again,
"Are you a citizen of the US?"
I'm an alien living in the US."
your country of origin."
kind of alien, silly."
The JG wasn't getting
it, but Emmert was. He had to stifle a laugh. Sara winked at him
and he winked back.
The XO remained
impassive. He explained to her patiently, "This is not any
kind of legal proceeding, per se, but you should understand that
the security of this ship is my principle concern. You have
breached that security and I want to know how and why. Depending
on how hard you make it for me to get to the bottom of this,
you're potentially facing anything from a misdemeanor to a lot
of very serious felony charges when we get back to port."
Mr. Speck," she answered, "But if I told you
everything, you wouldn't believe it anyway — and it wouldn't
be nearly as much fun."
She turned to the doctor, as
someone who wasn't quite so seriously involved and who had shown
a touch of ironic appreciation for the situation. "Why do you
think I'm here?"
answered bemusedly, "Wouldn't be surprised if this was a
publicity stunt for a movie. You're certainly dressed for
"That would be a good guess."
The JG said, "If
that's the case, you'll find that the Navy does not appreciate
being used for promotional purposes without going through proper
"I'm not saying
that that is the case," she countered. "The
middle of the ocean is kinda isolated for that kind of thing,
don't you think? And I'm betting you guys try to cover it
XO said. "I want to know how you got here and how you
evaded radar detection."
"How else? I
flew here under my own power. And my alien computer brain
phase-cancelled your radar waves. I had to — yesterday you
thought I was some kind of missile."
Emmert tried to cover
up his sudden laugh with a cough. The doctor didn't even try to
hide his laughter. The yeoman broke her pencil.
The XO and the JG
looked at each other, obviously not pleased.
being very cooperative," she said. "You guys just
don't know it yet."
She added, "Can I go to the
bathroom?" One of her favorite tricks, but they
didn't know that yet, either.
The JG sent the
private down the passageway to secure the closest head and sent
the yeoman in to keep her company, posting the Marine at the
As the JG escorted
her past the sentry, Sara turned to him and said, "I'd
really love to stay and chat, but I want to see more of your
nice ship and talk to some of the sailors before I leave."
She blew a little
puff of air at his face and he instinctively blinked. His ears
popped suddenly and he staggered slightly as the air in front of
him seemed to buckle.
The long passageway
was empty. She was gone.
News of Sara's
arrival swept through the ship on afterburners. Rumors
abounded, but most seemed to parallel the doctor's guess. Half
the guys topside during her landing swore she was some famous
movie star or other, the rest figured that she had to be a stunt
double. A few witnesses — obviously not very close — swore
she was a stunt man in a wig. Other guesses included that
she was a BASE jumper out for the ultimate score, or some
crewmember's desperate girlfriend.
When she showed up
unannounced in the crowded crew's mess, it caused a sensation.
So many men packed around her on the starboard side that the
bridge crew felt the enormous ship list slightly.
something about being a little hungry and, almost immediately,
piles of messkits appeared, loaded with pork chops, mashed
potatoes, green beans and some unidentifiable sticky confection,
straight from the chow line. A rain of candy bars and sweets from the
gedunk added to the smorgasbord which Sara sampled
enthusiastically — which kept her from having to answer the
hundreds of questions that swept over her like a seventh wave.
She had questions for
them, too, that they were eager to answer.
"How do you like the Navy?"
"You like being on a ship like this?"
"What do you guys do out here for fun?"
They ate it
up. It was what a USO tour was supposed to be like.
Then some bright,
eager lad thrust a comic book at her along with a pen. She asked
him his name and then signed it —"With love" — to him in a big flourish. That set off another stampede, rocking the
ship back and forth like an unseen gale as men rushed back to
their racks to retrieve their own copies of every comic book
imaginable, along with a few Playboys which Sara laughingly said
she didn't do.
Normally, the ship's
Master-at-Arms petty officers would break up what appeared to be
some kind of friendly riot, but they had comic books, too. And
nobody would have paid them any attention. Besides, they didn't
have any orders.
reached the Captain, who dispatched a gunnery sergeant and a
squad of Marines with non-defective handcuffs to apprehend her.
"Gently," he told the
gunny, "but firmly. She is
not to wander off again," he said, glaring at the
When they got to the
mess, Sara had disappeared as suddenly as she had in the
passageway. Nobody admitted to seeing which way she had gone.
Nobody would have told the Marines even if they had seen
her leave. All they could do was march back to the Captain,
"Men and women of the
Enterprise, this is the Captain," his voice crackling
through every space on the ship. "As many of you are by now
aware, we have a special guest with us, a young lady who
unexpectedly dropped in on us in the middle of flight ops this
morning. While we would like to extend the hospitality for which
our ship is famous, this individual has not been given
the run of the ship and her wandering around is disrupting good
order and discipline. Now, we all know that it's easy for a
civilian to get lost and very easy for a youngster like her to
get hurt if they don't know what they're doing or where they're
"I'm going to
ask Miss Corel to please stay wherever you are right now and
somebody will assist you shortly. Any officers or crewmembers
who see her should immediately contact the Officer of the
Day and report her location.
Sara was already in a
different ready room talking to the pilots she had played with
the day before (though they didn't know it yet). They were
trying to work out the aerodynamics of her landing that morning
while she smiled enigmatically and admitted nothing.
velocity for someone her size can't be much, especially with all
the hair and the cape adding lots of drag," one of them
Another one chimed
in, "She probably couldn't fall at a hundred knots if she
tried. With a good angle of attack and spreading out like a
flying squirrel, she's bound to be able to slow her airspeed
down below 80 knots."
A pilot went to the
blackboard and tried to work out a few calculations.
"So," he said as he drew, "If she's doing 80
knots total airspeed and manages to get a glide ratio of even
one-to-one, then she might manage about 40 down and 40 forward,
which — minus the ship's velocity…"
"Nah, that's not
right," the first one countered. "It doesn't work that
way. Here, let me show you." He added his own scribblings.
"What do you
guess for her total surface area compared to her weight?"
another added. "Then we can get some surface-loading
"She'd get a lot
more out of that cape if she had some batts in there to stiffen
out the edges," said another one.
Sara let him examine
her cape. He looked disappointed for a second and then ventured,
"OK, how about foot stirrups? Or something…"
"Well, if she
does manage to make 40 forward, that's only about ten knots or
so across the deck before she even hits the ground effect."
"Yeah. That'll give her a bounce so she can more or less
stall out at the last second. Looked like she was doing less
than 10 forward net, and maybe 25 down when she hit the deck."
off a two-story building."
"Or a high
dismount off of parallel bars, like at the Olympics."
"Yeah, but they
don't land on steel."
The problem that was
at the back of all their minds was how you could practice such a
feat. And how anyone would ever have the confidence to actually
try such a thing. Even if they could figure out the math
involved with complete certainty (they had their doubts), none
of these brave and accomplished fighter pilots would take such a
leap of faith.
They couldn't decide
whether to admire her skill and guts — or believe the
When the Captain's
announcement came over, one of the pilots reluctantly got up to
head for the intercom.
Sara looked at the lone female pilot in
the room and asked her, "Do you think I look like a missile
now, 'Firefox'?" She turned around, her 'flame' of golden
hair flowing over the 'smoke' of her black-red cape.
your eyes and imagining that I'm a couple of miles away and
you're pulling eight G's," she added helpfully.
Firefox narrowed her
eyes, wondering how the girl had known her handle. Then it hit
her, her eyes opening wide in astonishment. "Belay that
Her wingman turned to
look at her, reaching for the intercom key. "Are you
kidding?" he asked.
"Or I'll break
your arm," she hissed. "Look. I mean really
look, from this angle."
He sauntered over and
looked. "Jesus H…" he trailed off.
Sara turned back to
Firefox and told her, "I just had to tell you, I think you're a
terrific flyer. I mean, it's easy for me, but having to master
all that intricate stuff like that, it's really amazing to me
that you can make it look so natural. You really have a feel
for it, I can tell. And what with landing such a tricky machine
so dangerously on this little speck in the middle of the sea…
Wow! That's real courage. I'm surprised there aren't more women
like you flying. Anyway, that's all I wanted to say."
The other pilots
weren't sure what had just happened. They looked around at each
other and the blackboard, then back at Sara.
run," Sara waved at them as she headed for the hatch.
"I'll be taking off between the forward cats in an hour,
and I still haven't seen half the ship yet."
called Firefox, leaping after her. "You can't go now!"
There wasn't even a
blur in the passageway when she got there.
In the next half
hour, reports flooded into the OD. She'd been spotted nearly
simultaneously in every part of the ship, from the chain locker
to the fantail, from the engine room to the wardroom. She talked
cheerily to everyone she met, signed autographs and posed for
pictures, and then seemed to almost vanish. She appeared to have a
sixth sense when it came to the Marines sent to every reported
sighting. There weren't enough to go around, evidently. It was
like she had them surrounded.
The gunny took his
squad to the vast, cavernous hangar bay, nearly empty in the
middle from flight ops. She was making the Marines look
foolish, and Marines don't like to be made to look foolish. They
were quite capable of looking foolish on their own, without any
help from some damned little girl.
He figured she'd show
up here sooner or later, and he deployed his men so that she
could check in — but not check out. They stayed just outside
of the space itself, carefully sitting down in chairs in the
various shops and offices that surrounded the hangar, looking
busy. He chased off the squids, who were undoubtedly aiding and
Dammit, he had a mission,
and he'd get it done if he had to tackle her himself. He pulled
a live round from a little pocket on his right trouser leg and
carefully loaded it into his service .45.
Sure enough, they
didn't have to wait long. She came skipping into his
little net and he pulled the string, blowing his whistle and
bringing the rest of his squad running.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
"Halt!" he bellowed in his very best
parade-ground voice. "Yew will put yore hands on yore haid.
Yew will turn around. Yew will drop and press yore belly to the
deck. Yew will not move until I tell yew to."
She did none of those
things, ignoring the onrushing Marines and grinning at him.
good at that!" she told him. "Just like the
He was pissed at her
goddamned attitude. "Shut… The fuck… Up… And put…
Yore fucking hands… On yore fucking haid." He raised his
pistol, pointing it straight up to emphasize that he was not
she exclaimed. "Does yore momma know yew talk to girls like
that?" she mimicked.
His squad had her
surrounded. He walked up to her, still pointing his piece at the
overhead. "Cuff 'er, Danno," he growled at one of his
Something seemed to
be wrong with Danno's cuffs. They just kind of crumbled. Same
with everybody else's. It was embarassing, what with a gathering
crowd of sailors looking on, catcalling. Government issue wasn't
for shit these days.
To hell with it. He
grabbed at her, but she wasn't there. She sort of twisted and
ducked, and then she was out of their little circle, waltzing
away without a care in the world toward the enormous elevator opening, blue sky and rushing sea shining in the sun on the
other side of the giant oval.
Bitch. Freeze! Or I will fucking shoot
yew." He pointed his piece in her direction.
The catcalls turned
to cries of alarm. Even the other Marines were yelling at the
gunny like he was crazy. A few made as if they might lunge at
him. Sara didn't respond at all, skipping away and ignoring his
thought, Shit, shit, shit. He carefully aimed a couple of
feet to her right, through the huge opening in the side of the ship,
and squeezed off a round.
At the last instant,
she seemed to dart right into his line of fire. The sharp report was followed by her sudden spin and collapse to the
horrified, frozen momentarily by shock. The gunny dropped his
piece and ran to her, falling to his knees, a knot clutching his
stomach. A crowd gathered around them instantly, not knowing
what to do. There were shouts of 'Corpsman!' from the jugheads, mingled with
uglier shouts from the squids directed at the Marines in general and the
in particular. It looked bad.
He could have sworn it
was her shoulder that got in the way of his bullet, but couldn't find anything — which wasn't necessarily unusual. He turned her over, looking
for an exit wound, but didn't see one. He felt frantically
around, thinking that maybe the projectile had bounced around in
her ribcage. It could have come out anywhere, or not even come
out at all.
"I can't find a
pulse," one of the other Marines shouted.
breathing," yelled another.
The gunny threw off
his hat and got ready to administer mouth-to-mouth, wondering frantically
where in the hell the fucking corpsmen were.
But as he bent over
her, she opened her eyes and said, "Whew! You ever try oral
She sat up and handed
the gunny a smoking bullet. "I think this belongs to you.
Careful, it's hot."
Hotter than hell. He
dropped it involuntarily. Everybody backed away, looking at the
slug and the girl like they were part of a dream.
she told the gunny. "You're just doing your job. I was a
real brat, wasn't I?"
She bounced up.
"It's been fun, guys, but there's one more person I have to
see before I leave. Catch ya later."
Before anyone could
react, she ran over to the elevator opening and nonchalantly
stepped over the edge, grabbing some tiny projection and
climbing swiftly up the side of the ship like a monkey,
clambering over the safety net and onto the catwalk,
disappearing once more.
When the emergency
medical team finally arrived, they had to take care of the
Emmert was back on
the flag bridge. Ryker had listened to his story with impatience
and then took off, muttering to himself. Walker told him that
Ryker had sent several radio messages stateside without
receiving a reply. Something to do with
stories on the Internet and the girl. Emmert had seen some of
the stories out of Houston. He hadn't believed any of them
Walker took off to
see if he could find out the latest scuttlebutt, leaving Emmert
alone. He sighed and headed for the admiral's head, since there
was nobody around to write him up for it and all the others
nearby were secured. In all the excitement, he'd neglected
Shaking it out with
great relief, he was just starting to let fly when he saw her
out of the corner of his eye, peering out from the bottom of the
little closet, watching him with amusement.
He hosed everything
in sight before he could stop.
"You might as
well let it all out, Lester. I won't tell if you won't."
What the hell. He
did, and she even helped him clean up the mess.
"I figured the
admiral's bathroom would be the last place anyone would look for me.
And I wanted to tell you how nice you were down there. 'Preciate
besides," she went on. "You know, don't
"Yes, I do. From
the first moment."
"Probably a lot
of others do, too. But I don't think they'll admit it, do
Commander Ryker knows. He's wants to get a gig with the
CIA when he retires next year, but nobody's supposed to know
that. He already filed a couple of reports about you."
know," she said. "I read 'em. Tried to get your
admiral to order the Captain to turn me over to him. Like I'd go
"You read the
"Sure. I can see
radio waves and stuff. That's how I jimmied your radar."
"What about the
rest? That landing — you were just trying to make it look
like it was possible, right?"
handcuffs — there wasn't anything wrong with them, was there?
And you went down about a hundred feet of knee-knocker
passageway while Chekoffsky was blinking. I saw it, but I didn't
see anything. There was just a sort of a whoosh."
disinterestedly at her fingernails.
"I heard that
some Marine shot you. And you gave him back his bullet. Let me
guess — I'll bet you smoothed the barrel marks off of it so
they couldn't get a ballistics match."
Sara raised her
eyebrows in appreciation. "Very good! You seem to have me
really her, aren't you?"
"No. I'm really
"Well, I mean
the same as. Everything she can do…"
"…I can do
better," she finished. "And then some. Sometimes I
even amaze myself."
"But you don't
want anybody to know for sure. I don't get it. From everything I've seen or heard, you were very careful not to do anything that couldn't be
nearly explained away somehow. Why?"
"I'm not really
sure," she said. "I thinks it's some kind of an
experiment that my dad is trying to run, maybe for my benefit. I
can't figure him out sometimes."
"Well, sort of a
foster parent. I wasn't kidding about the alien thing."
"Just like the
the comics. Maybe I'll tell you someday."
it?" he said excitedly.
"Sure, why not?"
I'd like that. But if you do, you gotta tell me everything.
Especially, what it's like. Y'know — to be super. I've
always tried to imagine what it would be like to fly and not
have to worry about anything and being so powerful. I guess we
all — all of us regular humans — dream about it sometimes. I
just want to know what it's like."
she replied. "It's not all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes
I think it's like being handicapped, and I don't even get to use
one of those primo parking spaces."
"You know what I
dream about? Being normal. Really. There's a lot of things
superpowers are no good for, especially when it comes to other
people. Sometimes I feel like I have bolts through my
Emmert stared at her
She went on,
"What I admire is people who are able to do things without
having super powers. Like Firefox. You know her?"
"I've seen her.
She's an officer and I'm enlisted. Not the same social circle,
"You should talk
to her someday. She knows about me, too. Anyway, flying for me
just happens. I don't even know how and I don't have to think
about it. Flying for her is the hardest thing imaginable. I can
imagine she had to want it really bad to have a chance to do it.
So between us, who's really super? And she'll get married
someday and have kids. That's something I'll never be
able to do."
realize…" He didn't know what to say
replied, snapping out of her momentary funk. "Didn't mean
to sound so gloomy. Really, I can't help what I am, and it has
said excitedly, "This is great stuff. I'm glad you're
telling me this."
"What — you
gonna write a book or something?"
wanted to. A book about you. Actually, I've been thinking about
it for years."
"I haven't even been
on this planet for too many years."
haven't, but what you represent has been since Olympus, one way
or another. You're made up the way you are for a reason, aren't
"Honestly, if I
am, nobody bothered to tell me. There really is a long story
that I don't have time for right now."
"But you'll tell
me someday, right?"
"OK, it's a
promise." She asked him, "In return, can you do me one little
"Who do I
kill?" he responded eagerly.
"Just tell the Captain that I had a great time and I'm
sorry for the inconvenience. Someday, we'll all have a big
laugh about it and I'll do something to make it up to the
"I don't know
that he'll believe me."
"He won't, and
that's part of the joke. Oh, and one other thing. Tell him I'm
leaving in exactly five minutes, from the flight deck, just like
a catapult launch."
"Yep. Gotta go.
He's just below us right now on the bridge, so you won't have to
go looking for him."
He stood there
uncertainly, so she gave him a quick hug and a kiss on the
scoot." She headed out the hatch onto the weather bridge and
fell over the side.
huh?" The Captain hardly knew what to believe about
their elusive guest anymore. But it was as good a lead as any.
Emmert reported. "She said to tell you, 'just like a
catapult launch'. I'm sure she meant it, sir."
"Can you explain
to me why she decided to confide in you?"
I believe her."
Captain smiled. "And just what is it that you believe about
her? That she's some kind of superhero?"
"Yes…" Emmert reddened under
the condescending smirks of the officers on the Bridge. "Yessir, that's what I believe. From another
The Captain chuckled.
"You know, son, I wish she was. Oh, she's good alright.
World-class stuntwoman, gymnast and stage magician, no doubt
about it. But, uh, flight ops has been secured for the day.
Nobody's flying off my ship."
A seaman wearing
'phones reported, "Lieutenant Zulu, Cap'n. Subject is on
the flight deck amidships. He is proceeding to intercept."
The officers crowded
out on the catwalk to watch the show. Emmert ran down the
ladders to the flight deck, not knowing what he could or should
do. He ducked under the tail of an F-14 near the forward
A party of Marines
led by lieutenant Zulu was already closing in on Sara. They
spread out to surround her, wary of her tricks. From dozens of
catwalk hatches surrounding the deck, airedales and crewmembers
poured up from below to watch the show — the ship's TV station
was feeding the scene to monitors all over the ship.
Sara feinted left,
but the jugheads stayed with her, like it was a football drill.
She made as if to run at their line, but they braced themselves.
She pirouetted, but they stayed with her. They
made no move to grab her, waiting for some signal. The assembling crowd
reacted like fans at a corrida, saluting each move and
countermove with appreciation for the artistry of it all.
Finally, the Captain
called out over his bullhorn, silencing the onlookers.
this is Captain Klerk."
Captain," she called back, her voice barely audible above
the wind of the ship's passage.
nobody is going to hurt you. You have my word on that, and I'm
very sorry for the incident on the hangar deck. Please believe
me, it won't happen again."
problem," she yelled back.
"You simply must
stop running around my ship. We have work to do, and we need to
be sure you're comfortable and safe until we get back to
Captain," she shouted. "Have to go now."
will take you to your quarters. We'll have a nice talk tomorrow
she called out. "Only a minute left."
While the Captain had
been distracting her, two of the Marines crept up behind her.
They each reached out to grab an arm.
Too late, Emmert and
about three hundred other men shouted out a warning. They
needn't have bothered. She wasn't there.
Somehow, she knew the
precise moment to slip backwards between the two men, winding up
behind them in a gap in the circle of Marines.
The jugheads reacted
quickly to surround her again, but couldn't quite pull off the
flanking maneuver as she ran circles around the larger, slower
men. The sailors roared their approval.
It couldn't last.
There were too many of them and they eventually closed in on her
shoulder to shoulder until she was practically buried under a
pile of Marines. There were scattered boos from the
disappointed spectators. After a moment of struggling, the
mass of men began to break up, revealing in their midst —
Lieutenant Zulu wearing handcuffs with his pants tied securely
around his ankles. Sara was not to be seen.
The squids laughed
and cheered at the same time.
In the shadow of the
fighter, Emmert felt someone elbow him in the ribs. It was Sara.
She said, "I
don't know how they're gonna explain that away, but they will. I
heard what the Captain said about me being a stage magician, so
I thought I'd try the old disappearing bit."
Delighted to see her,
Emmert said, "That was great! What are you gonna do for
She knew he'd
eventually have to tell the Captain what she said. "As far
as they're concerned — kill
She winked at him,
then darted off
suddenly, heading for the bow until she came to the spot right
between the start of the two long catapult tracks. She was spotted
as she crouched down like a sprinter setting up on her starting
With a shout, the
Marines hauled after her, but they were too late. She started
her takeoff run, easily outdistancing her pursuers. She ran
straight down the deck between the cats and executed a perfect swan dive off the
bow, down and out of sight. She was not seen hitting the
water — or flying away.
The Captain ordered an immediate
man-overboard recovery operation, but no trace was found. Presumably, she was
torn to pieces by the screws and scavenged by the sharks.
"Gentlemen," said the Captain to all assembled,
"I have to make a log entry. Unfortunately, it has to make
sense. The Navy Department does not like to employ ship's
captains who hallucinate."
He mused, "Y'know, I like my job. And I
want to keep it. Can any of you tell me how I'm going to do
deliberation and a whole lot of tunnel vision, they agreed it
was a publicity stunt ending in suicide. A few enlisted men and
Marines got reamed at the next Captain's Mast to make it look good.
Emmert, the doctor
and a certain female pilot called Firefox all got together
afterwards and laughed themselves silly.
Chapter Twenty-three: Clear Lake
Patrick Hill, 2000