"Sweet Mamoud, Chief, I can't believe it!" Leeming Keegan wailed as he read the special bulletin on the mess hall display screen.
"Private Leeming," began the stern reply, "if you are referring to the Southern troops being assigned to escort the Westphalia," Sergeant Yanav Valency grimaced and scratched his jaw as he read the bulletin again, "well, I can't say I blame you."
The crew of Launch Bay Four grumbled and sat down in the empty mess hall of their mobile launch facility, the NCS-45 Westphalia. They had just gotten off duty, and while the news of their new escort's nationality stung their collective pride, they were far too exhausted to voice their opinions further. Valency watched quietly as Leeming struggled to get his spoon in his mouth. Valency sighed, looked down at his bowl of johar soup and thought about the prospect of sharing a mess hall with a bunch of 'Southern Snakes' as Khazzam, his second in command had put it.
However, Launch Bay Four Chief Valency had a better picture than the rest of his crew. He gulped down some of his soup, remembering the recent satellite images of the Utrecht and Versailles, Westphalia's two sister ships. That is, he remembered the satellite images of what was left of the two ships after CEF ortillery bombardment. Since then, the Westphalia had been under strict radio silence, moving at night through the Badlands with minimal escort. Now, the last of the Westphalia's landship escorts had been reassigned to combat missions, leaving only two rocket fuel tankers and a few service trucks behind.
Yanav Valency grumbled into his soup. At least Southern protection was better than no protection at all. He had a feeling that they were going to need it.
"Je ne peux pas…Lieutenant! We are babysitting the biggest, fattest moving fuel tank on Terranova! Pourquoi? Les Zealots du Nord can't take care of their own ship?"
Lieutenant Valentine Gatineau looked up at his apoplectic infantry commander, as thoughts of punching his teeth in flashed through his mind. He closed his eyes. "Merde" was all he thought.
"Lieutenant Blanc, look at it this way," Gatineau straightened his combat webbing as he stood up to look his nearly insubordinate officer in the eye, "our orders are clear: NCS-45 Westphalia is in need of an escort, and we are the closest and ablest unit in the area. If you wish, upon our arrival at our new posting I can arrange to have you put in the brig for the duration."
"Non, mon lieutenant."
"And furthermore, Monsieur Blanc, your men will be on their best behaviour among the Northerners. Our regiment's honneur will not be tarnished," growled Lieutenant Gatineau.
"Good. Get your men assembled. We have to get moving."
Soon Lieutenant Gatineau found himself alone. He surveyed his surroundings and breathed out gently. The Western Desert was well lit by Hope, Faith and Charity. Gatineau smiled at the stark beauty, but was too exhausted to let it sink in. Neither was he thrilled to have his combined arms compagnie assigned to escort duty. And of all the ships to escort, he got pinned to the fattest cow of them all, the Westphalia.
He grinned at the irony. In a war between North and South, his raiding compagnie would have been assigned the task of locating the Westphalia for ortillery bombardment. This War of the Alliance certainly created strange bedfellows. 'No wonder Blanc was so upset,' he mused to himself, 'having to protect something we always considered an easy kill.'
Gatineau fixed his helmet strap in place and bit into a ration bar. He smirked and considered the crew of the Westphalia's reaction to his men in their mess hall. He started walking towards where his section was camped. The twelve Esprit buggies under his command were already starting up.
'Besides,' he thought as he sat in his buggy and checked the action on his pistol, 'we've been in the field for two seasons. It'll be good to get a warm meal and a nice bed.'
The bridge of the Westphalia was bathed in a sickly green glow as the armoured shutters closed over the observation deck. Captain Theresa Mogabe watched the last rays of moonlight disappear, and wondered when she'll see the moons again. Her reverie was interrupted by a call from the communications officer.
"Ma'am, we've got a message inbound, security clearance alpha," called Lt. Kurson.
"Alright Mr. Kurson, pipe it through."
Mogabe read her readout display on her command chair. The Westphalia would be on the move again, once she had picked up her new escorts. The destination was close to the eastern edge of the Western Desert, on the other side of the Pacifica Mountains from Baja.
Yanav Valency shifted his weight from left to right and front to back as he stood at attention, waiting for the hangar door to open. The officers and senior non-coms of the Westphalia were all present, assembled for the quick reception of their new Southern escorts. Just as Valency was about to grumble something to the crew leader of bay three, the hangar doors opened. Moonlight bathed the loading ramp. The Westphalia was moving at a fair speed, and Valency could see the ground pass below the ramp. Suddenly, he heard the aggressive growl of v-engines. Gears came rolling up the ramp in dusty camouflage paint jobs, with distinctively Southern rounded armour plates. Valency wasn't up on his recognition charts, but it was hard to mistake Jagers, Spitting Cobras, Iguanas and Sidewinders. Fifteen gears in total zipped into the hangar and parked in three neat rows.
The dust had barely settled when the whine of engines could be heard again. Twelve buggies, each laden with troops, climbed up the ramp and quickly parked. They looked like enlarged, tougher versions of the Elan buggies Valency had seen in the racing circuits before enlisting. The troops dismounted; there were about a platoon's worth, he figured. The dust and grime layered on these soldiers was incredible. Still, Valency noted, their weapons were clean, and they lined up sharply. As soon as they dismounted, Valency could see the cannons and what looked like missile systems mounted on the buggies themselves.
A thin man in a dusty officer's uniform jumped out of the lead buggy and approached Captain Mogabe, who was standing in front of her assembled officers. He raised his visor and saluted smartly.
"Lieutenant Valentine Gatineau of the Soixant-triezième régiment, Les Coeurs Brisés," a brief pause, "reporting for duty Madame!" Gatineau said briskly, clicking his heels together.
Sgt. Valency couldn't help but smirk.
"Captain Theresa Mogabe, of the NCS-45 Westphalia," she said, returning the salute.
She then extended her hand.
"You could hear a pin drop, it was so quiet," Valency would later say when retelling the events.
Lt. Gatineau smiled and shook it.
"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant," Mogabe said.
Mogabe looked over at her new escorts. Gatineau nodded.
"Captain, may I introduce the 73rd?" he gestured. Mogabe nodded slightly.
Gatineau walked with Mogabe over to the three rows of gears. Their pilots were standing at attention beside their machines.
"Capitain, our gear section commander, Sgt. D'Éstrubé," Gatineau walked over to the closest of the Sidewinder gears. Its pilot was a short, stocky woman with a red bandana tied around her neck. Mogabe approached.
"How long have you piloted this Sidewinder, Sergeant?"
"Four cycles, seventeen weeks and six days, Ma'am!" was the enthusiastic reply. Mogabe nodded, smiling. She noticed the gear sported several kill markers, including two hovertank silhouettes.
Mogabe then followed Gatineau to the infantry platoon. They approached sous-lieutenant Blanc.
"Sous-Lieutenant Blanc, Madame," Gatineau said, eyeing Blanc sternly. The young sous-lieutenant was unusually stiff, even for a Republican officer.
"I first served as a platoon commander in the infantry for six cycles sous-lieutenant," Mogabe's tone was gentle, "tell me, has anything changed since the last century?"
Blanc's eyes widened ever so slightly.
"Pas de tout, Madame!"
Mogabe nodded. She figured there'd be at least one Southern officer with qualms about escorting a Northern ship. Inwardly relieved that she had managed to relax the patriotic sous-lieutenant, she turned to Gatineau and then eyed the parked Esprit buggies.
"You command the reconnaissance section, Lieutenant?" she asked. Mogabe had a funny feeling that this poor officer commanded what was left of his regiment.
"Oui, Madame. However, these Esprit vehicles also serve in the light anti-armour role," he replied, as he motioned towards the pair of vehicles carrying anti-tank missile launchers.
"Quite the sting, Lieutenant. Welcome aboard," Mogabe turned to address the entire hangar, "all operations officers and launch bay chiefs will report to the operations room," Mogabe paused, and took a deep breath, steadying herself, "we have work to do."
"No Southerner has every seen this room before," mused Gatineau sofly. The Westphalia's tactical operations room was an austere, well-protected armoured cave behind the bridge. A large trideo holoprojector dominated the room, surrounded by pop-up consoles and a variety of flat display consoles.
As Gatineau filed in after some of the other officers, he realized that this room was really just too small to comfortably accommodate everyone. Apparently Captain Mogabe thought it necessary to included as many officers in her meetings as possible. He tacitly approved, and found a spot to stand.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Mogabe began as she brought up the image of Terranova on the trideo projector, "the Earthers are on the move again. Our most recent deep space intelligence shows their fleet approaching. They're going to try to run our drone screen and re-supply their forces," she paused, and watched those present shift uncomfortably, "We have reason to believe that the fleet will also try to open a second front, here," a blip appeared on the map, "at Baja."
"Ma'am," Sgt. Valency spoke up, "We don't have enough drones to prevent the Earther's from landing at Baja."
"No," she concurred, "we don't. The higher ups know this and want us to launch as much as we can until any and all enemy forces in Baja are annihilated by ground forces."
"So, why the Southern escort?" someone asked.
"Our reconnaissance units tell us that an Earther hunter-killer unit has been tracking us for some time now," Mogabe replied, and fixed her gaze on Lieutenant Gatineau, "Lieutenant, once your people are quartered and fed, you'll be on patrol."
Gatineau nodded and surveyed the room. 'An Earther hunter-killer unit,' he thought to himself, 'this may be the last time I'll see this room.'
"Ok people," Valency keyed the control room microphone, "we're done. Let's get some chow and some rest. We're back here in five hours. Hey, Leeming, take a shower, will ya? I can smell you through your suit!"
"Hey, lay off will ya Chief!" Private Leeming groaned as the other members of Launch Bay Crew Four cackled despite their exhaustion. They had been at work for at least ten hours by Valency's reckoning. The veteran crew were preparing for what they anticipated would be a grueling time ahead. Their toil would be worth it, they knew. Still, getting five hours of rest was most welcome.
"Valency," Khazzam started as he took off the welding goggles, "you're sure you saw the Captain shake that Snake's hand?"
"Yeah Khazzam, I'm sure. Didn't believe it when I saw it, but it's true. The Snakes look like they've had it rough too."
"Hey, Chief," interrupted Anita Carlson, the Bay Four's guidance specialist, "could you run a check on the data feeds in Arm Two? I just gave them a good tuning. We should get a better information rate."
"Yeah, and Carlson, come down, it's bedtime."
Carlson sighed to herself, and adjusted her safety harness. The youngest and most eager member of Valency's crew, she still hadn't learned the true value of long periods of uninterrupted sleep. She keyed the suspension harness controls, and began her slow descent to the launch bay floor. As she hung by heat resistant cables some twenty meters above the floor, she gazed up to where the pulley on the tool arm was turning slowly. After touching down and detaching herself from the harness, she entered the bay's control room after Arland Joyce and Kytor Fisi. Valency was double-checking their suits for fuel residue.
"They've got a Sidewinder Chief?" Joyce, a gear enthusiast, was positively ecstatic.
"Yeah, two or three. Ok, you're clean," Valency eyed Joyce suspiciously as he got out of his protective suit, "get some rest Joyce. Don't let me catch you snooping around the hangar looking to pet some gears," Valency grimaced. Why did he always sound like a mother and less like a soldier?
After a final check of the bay, Valency's crew made their way down the busy corridors of the Westphalia towards the mess hall. Valency smiled, as he smelled the hot chow his stomach was noisily anticipating. But what was…
"Hey, Valency, what is that smell?" Khazzam said aloud. The entire crew had stopped dead in their tracks, mouths agape. Valency could smell it too, but he couldn't place it. Whatever the scent, it wafted from the mess hall.
The crew of Bay Four broke into a run and burst into their nearly empty mess hall. The two landsailors detailed to serve food were standing behind their counters, slack-jawed and stunned. A cook had come out to check the food, only to be stopped cold by the distinctive scent of Southern tobacco permeating the mess hall. It was very quiet, except for some quiet chatter in Universal French. A pair of vehicle mechanics were staring over at a corner table. Valency followed their gaze to a platoon of Southern infantrymen who were eating their first hot meal in weeks. A number of them were smoking.
Valency did not breath.
One of the Southerners flicked his ashes to the floor.
"I'm gonna…" Khazzam snarled, and started towards the Southerners.
Valency grabbed him.
The Southerner finished his cigarette and tossed it to the floor, extinguishing it under the toe of his boot.
"No, Khazzam," Valency said, "No, let me talk to them."
"Sergeant Valency," growled Captain Mogabe from behind her desk, "did it ever occur to you that our Southern guests were unaware of our no smoking policy?"
Valency winced and remained silent.
"Did it ever cross your mind," continued Mogabe, "that perhaps a more diplomatic approach would have been appropriate?"
Valency stood at attention in front of Captain Mogabe's desk, eyes fixed to the wall behind her. He figured it was better to just stay silent. Besides, he wasn't entirely sure if he could emit anything other than a groan if he tried to speak.
Mogabe sighed. "Sergeant, you also decided to fight a platoon of highly trained infantrymen who had been in combat for three seasons, and do so single-handedly. I can't have my best launch bay chief taking himself out of the war. Especially not by fighting our allies."
"No ma'am," Valency winced. The medical people told him that nothing was broken. He just was bruised and sore -very bruised and sore. He would be able to report to active duty after a good night's sleep.
"Excuse me, Madame," Lieutenant Gatineau said. He had been standing silently off to the side, "but I have a suggestion which may aid in smoothing out this difficulty."
The mess hall of the Westphalia was filled with the entire complement of the 73rd Regiment, Southern Republic Army, and Sgt. Yanav Valency. Valency was standing in front of the troops on a makeshift stage, used generally for the occasional speech or live performance when the crew had some downtime. He was looking rather uncomfortable. He surveyed the seated soldiers in front of him, many of whom were wearing broad smirks. The occasional cough broke up the silence.
"Alright," Valency started half-heartedly, "now then…I'm here to demonstrate to you why we do not smoke on board the NCS-45 Westphalia. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding earlier today concerning this policy," he stopped, and winced as he spotted the soldier who had been smoking. Valency's eyes widened as he watched the infantryman put a cigarette in his mouth, and light it. Choking down his pride, he continued.
"To demonstrate this policy, I have brought a small sample of the fuel used to propel the rockets we launch from this landship," Valency paused and smiled evilly. His confidence was returning, "I'll need a volunteer."
Lieutenant Gatineau, seated in the back, grinned.
Valency pointed to the repeat offender. "You sir, yes, you, with the strong right hook," he paused as the entire room burst out laughing, "please come here, and bring that cigarette with you."
The southerner approached. Valency looked him over and read his name tag. The infantryman was easily ten centimeters taller, and about twenty kilograms heavier than the launch bay chief.
"So, you all must be wondering what I was thinking, trying to, um…educate Caporal Nyugen on our no-smoking policy," Valency grinned, wondering what he was thinking when he threw the punch, "well, I have here a small, small sample of the rocket fuel."
Valency motioned to a clear bowl containing about a tablespoon of clear liquid. It was behind a clear ceramite shield. Caporal Nyugen shifted uncomfortably on the stage.
"Caporal, your cigarette please."
Valency looked at the cigarette wistfully, "you know, I used to smoke a pack of these a day," he mused, as he flicked the cigarette high, over the ceramite shield, and into the bowl. The lit cigarette bounced against the rim, and then tumbled into the liquid. There was a terrific flash, the ceramite shield shook, and then all was still. What remained of the bowl was smoldering, melted and broken. Pieces of glass were lying on the floor. The smell of burned metal filled the room.
Caporal Nyugen looked particularly ashen.
"The fuel mixture we use in the rockets is more powerful than the explosives in your satchel charges and about fifty times more volatile. The Westphalia's operational weight is about seventy five percent rocket fuel. I haven't smoked in the seven cycles I've been on board this ship, and I'm not about to get incinerated now. Understood?"
"Oui, mon sergeant!" Nyugen said. There were murmurs of agreement throughout the crowd of assembled men.
Captain Mogabe sighed as she looked up from the data console of her command chair. The armoured shutters had been lowered over the bridge observation windows for three days now, and she missed the spectacular view. Lieutenant Bullard interrupted her brief reverie.
"Ma'am, ETA is five minutes."
"Thank you Mr. Bullard. When we're at the launch site, put us into the wind and alert the launch crews," Mogabe got up quickly, "oh, and have Lieutenant Gatineau deploy his forces."
Chief Valency looked through the control room window into Launch Bay Four and smiled. This was it, time to do the one thing that set the Westphalia apart from every other fuel tanker on the planet: launch rockets.
The Frelon rocket was assembled vertically, mounted on the retractable gantry that extended above the opening of the launch bay. Moonlight shone into the bay, giving everything a very soft look and casting eerie shadows down below. Next to Valency, Joyce remotely maneuvered a hunter-killer drone into the Frelon's cargo bay. Though this was to be the first launch, everyone was already fully clad in protective clothing. Joyce gripped the robot arm's controls tightly through thick gloves.
"Chief, rocket's full up!" Khazzam yelled from the floor of the bay, as he bent over the rocket fueling gear in a protective suit. He quickly closed the feed to the rocket and with the help of Leeming hauled the refueling line out of the main launch bay.
"Telemetry data loaded," Carlson said softly in the control room, "retracting data feed."
"Joyce," Chief Valency said, "what's the word on the cargo?"
"Secure, sited and sentient," was the reply. The two drones the rocket would be carrying into orbit were armed and hostile.
Valency looked over a final checklist, as he shut the blast doors over the control room window. He licked his lips with excitement and sent an automatic message to the bridge:
<LAUNCH BAY FOUR> PRIMED. AWAITING ORDERS
The crew stood silently, bathed in the red light of the control room, all eyes on the command console. Only seconds passed, but to a crew on edge and eager to do the job they were trained for, it seemed like a lifetime:
<BRIDGE> MESSAGE RECEIVED- LET 'EM HAVE IT VALENCY
"With pleasure," Valency nodded as he flipped open the guard and pressed the thumb-sized red button underneath. Khazzam started a stopwatch.
An instant passed, then the computer consoles erupted with data. The control room shuddered and shook with the ignition of the Frelon's engines.
"Everything's looking good Chief," Khazzam said, as he read the main data feed, "the rocket has cleared the gantry."
"Ok. Pipe the feed to the ops people. Everyone, suit up with life support. We're going in hot. I think it's time to break Launch Bay Three's record," Valency growled. He keyed the blast door switch and let everyone see the coolant foam cover the window.
Launch Bay Four was a searing inferno. Valency entered the airlock between the Bay and the control room and spoke into his firesuit's mic.
"Ok people one hundred and fifteen minutes. Let's go!"
The entire crew crammed into the airlock in their bulky firesuits. With the door behind them sealed, Valency popped the seal on the outer door. The crew of Bay Four burst out into a knee-deep sea of coolant foam and an atmosphere of toxic fumes and began to assemble the next rocket with pit crew speed and accuracy.
Twenty minutes: "Stages One and Two completed!"
Twenty-two minutes: "APU engaged."
Twenty-eight minutes: "Bring the drones online."
Thirty-seven minutes: "Hoist the guidance system. Carlson, get up there!"
Forty-five minutes: "Chief, we're ready to load."
Sixty-three minutes: "Cargo secured."
Eighty minutes: "Drones are secure, sited and sentient!" "Guidance loaded, retracting data feed!"
"Khazzam, wait for my signal to start fueling," Valency said calmly into the mic. He was back in the control room now, looking at the stopwatch. The bay thermometer still wasn't in the safe zone. Fueling this early would be catastrophic.
The airlock opened. Carlson and Joyce stepped into the control room. Everyone watched the thermometer and the stopwatch.
Ninety-one minutes: "You're safe Khazzam, top her up!"
One hundred-twenty-one minutes: <LAUNCH BAY FOUR> PRIMED. <BRIDGE> MESSAGE RECEIVED- YOU CAN DO BETTER VALENCY!
"Sir, there's another!" Lieutenant Gatineau's gunner called out as a rocket streaked towards the night sky a few kilometers away, "I wish they'd launch four all at once though!"
"Keep your eyes on your kill zone, caporal!" Gatineau smirked. The Westphalia's first volley of four rockets was a spectacular sight. But now that everyone knew where the mobile launch facility was, Gatineau became a martinet. The 73rd Regiment was expecting company. It was expecting a lot of company. The Earthers would try their hardest to knock out the only undamaged launch facility on Terranova. However, Gatineau had a plan.
The launch site was such that there was only one way to the Westphalia: the Earthers had to come from the west, over a stretch of sand and scrub, all of it rough and broken terrain. The Westphalia was nestled tightly in a valley, its two rocket fuel tankers nearby at the ready. The 73rd's infantry platoon was dug in and concealed in spread out ambush positions. Disposable anti-armour rockets were distributed to nearly every soldier. Each cavalry cadre of four Esprit buggies was ready to roll. The gear section…well, Gatineau had a special surprise for the Earthers.
"Command," the com crackled to life, "Blanc here, we have company. At least a platoon's worth of human soldiers coming up along the wadi approach. No vehicle support."
"Roger that," Gatineau pictured the twisting dried riverbed, "let them close. Watch for APC support."
Blanc keyed the com off gently, as he watched the lead element of the enemy platoon approach. The troopers were cautiously picking their way down the wadi, using as much cover as was available. The soldier nearest Blanc brought his assault rifle to bear. Blanc gently pushed the barrel down, and shook his head, as he leaned close to the soldat.
"Let them get in close. I want to smell what they ate for petit-dejeuner," he whispered, keying the com on so that his platoon would hear.
"Chief," Carlson called out, "data loaded."
"Ok, Khazzam, tell you what," Valency said into the com, "hose down the fuel feed with coolant. I want to get this sucker out of here."
"Sounds good Valency," was the reply. Leeming brought a canister over, and Khazzam blasted down the rocket's fuel intake port and the bay's fuel feed line with coolant foam.
Carlson looked up from her console in the control room.
"Chief, I can't retract the data feed."
"Shit," Valency's stomach knotted, "get up there and retract it manually, quick!"
Carlson resealed her firesuit and entered the launch bay, still covered in foam. She loaded herself into the harness, and then hoisted herself up by cable to the data arm. It was jammed. There was a standard-sized ratchet hardpoint on the panel next to the data feed arm. Carlson swung herself over, and grabbed onto a nearby handle. Calmly, she took a ratchet from her shoulder rig, attached it to the panel and began cranking. The feed arm slowly began to retract.
Lieutenant Blanc barely breathed. He crouched in a gully that broke across the wadi like a scar, his carbine at the ready. His muscles were taught; his fingers itched across the trigger of his weapon; his mind was on breakfast. Not four meters away, stood the lead trooper of an Earther reconnaissance platoon, scanning the terrain for any sign of Blanc's command escouade, all concealed in the wadi, waiting.
Blanc took a deep breath in through his nose.
'Combat rations,' Blanc, like any soldier, knew that combat rations all tasted and smelled the same, no matter which army they were from, 'poor bastard, what a terrible meal,' he gritted his teeth, and reached down to the grenade lying next to him. He pulled the pin ever so gently, silently, and let it fly.
The explosion echoed through the night air, and the scent of combat rations disappeared from Blanc's nostrils, replaced by the smell of blood and burned flesh. His squad opened up, saturating with fire the area where the enemy squad desperately sought cover. Another grenade exploded among the enemy. With that, Blanc stood, and with a blood-curdling scream, assaulted! His men followed, eager to finish what they started. Bayonets flashed and men screamed and died on the dusty wadi floor.
It was over in seconds.
"Command," Blanc growled softly as he withdrew, "we're regrouping to Point Taylor. We'll keep you posted."
Blanc and his men disappeared into the night. Behind him, he could hear the whine of hovertank engines.
"Command, this is Spirit Six, four dust trails inbound. Hovertanks."
"Acknowledged, Spirit Six. Wait for designation," Gatineau replied into the com. Spirit Six was one of two buggies carrying guided anti-tank missiles. Best to wait for a laser designator to paint one of the enemy hovertanks. He switched to his cadre channel, "Ok people, lock and load."
The eight Esprit buggies under Gatineau's command began revving their engines. The vehicles slowly advanced to the ridge overlooking the approach to the Westphalia. Gatineau stood up in his seat, and surveyed the dark landscape. The four hovertanks were moving fast, kicking up trails of dust, their engines howling.
"Target acquired! Missile away!"
A high-pitched noise made Gatineau wince as he saw a missile flash towards a target below. He smiled with some satisfaction. One of the hovertanks was a burning wreck. The other three had broken formation and were zigzagging to avoid being hit by laser designators or anti-armour missiles.
"Now they really know we're here," he grimaced, "all units, engage!" Gatineau's driver had already put the pedal to the metal.
Carlson gritted her teeth and kept cranking as the data feed arm slowly retracted. Her harness slowly began to swing back and forth as she worked, hanging twenty meters above the bay floor.
"Status Khazzam?" Valency asked through the com.
"Nearly there Valency," was the tense reply, "don't rush me." Khazzam and Leeming were gently fueling the assembled Frelon rocket. The bay was still hot. Valency was cutting corners.
Chief Valency checked their time. One hundred minutes. Suddenly, the bay shook as the Westphalia launched another rocket. A blinking light caught Valency's eye.
"Now what?" he asked, switching com channels, "Launch Bay Four, Chief Valency here, how may I help you?" he asked in his best impression of a Northco customer service representative.
"Chief, this is Mogabe. We've got to get moving soon, before ortillery sends this place to hell. You've got fifteen minutes!"
"Acknowledged, Ma'am," he replied, "Bay Four out."
"Carlson, work a miracle for me, ok?" Valency said to himself, as he looked up at her through the bay window.
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