Banzaidyne Press

"Heavy Gear: The Spirit of St. Louis, Part Three"

Continued from Part Two

Jack stood up from his seat in the Antelope truck and sighed in exasperation.

The Antelope was mired in a traffic jam on Coronado's South Bridge, as hundreds of other Coronadans were heading to Clemente Stadium and the soccer match scheduled there that afternoon. Jack was as much a fan of the Coronado Buccaneers as anyone and was thrilled that they had made it to the quarterfinals, but just then all he cared about was that the traffic was making him late.

He was glad, though, that his driver was the best scout in the Crusaders. He sat back down in his seat as Max Castiyo deftly maneuvered the truck through the crowd of other vehicles. Finally, they escaped the logjam and entered the tunnel that ran though Trinity, the oasis tower that formed the core of downtown Coronado.

"Thanks again, Max," Jack said to his friend, "I really appreciate this. I don't what was going on at the motor pool."

"No problem, sir," Max replied. "I'll be watching the match at the officer's club anyway - you should have seen the ticket prices."

The truck exited the tunnel and crossed the North Bridge, on its way to the North Hills and Kearny Field. Jack smiled slightly as they approached the airport, for he enjoyed flying almost as much as Max liked to drive. It's too bad the wreck's in such broken terrain, he thought, I could fly out there myself.

The truck entered the airport grounds and wound its way through the hangars and offices of the civilian section of the airport. Rounding a large hangar where a massive Leviathan cargo zeppelin was under construction, the truck pulled up to the gate to the section of the airport operated by Coronado's military air service. Officially known as the Coronado 1st Air Wing, the sign above the gate bore the unit's more common name: "Welcome To The Flying Circus."

"Good morning, sirs," the gate guard said as he saluted Jack and Max. The two men returned the salute and produced their identification. "Good morning, Sergeant," Jack said, "I'm here to see Colonel Richardson."

The guard checked their identification and said, "Yes sir, the Colonel's expecting you," as he signaled another guard to open the gate.

"Yes, I can hear her tapping her foot from here," Jack joked as the gate opened.

Smiling, the guard saluted and said, "Yes, sir, have a good day."

"Thank you," both men replied as they saluted in return. As they drove though the gate, he turned to Max and said with a smile, "You do know where we're going, right?"

Max snorted. "I sure hope so," he replied sarcastically, "it's been hours since I was here last."

They drove past several transport planes before reaching their destination. An Orca VTOL transport stood on the tarmac before them, its brilliant white and florescent orange paint scheme announcing its role as a search and rescue aircraft. The only dark symbols on the aircraft were unit and county markings, and the name The Samaritan painted garishly on the nose.

Just as Jack expected, a tall, raven-haired woman stood in front of the aircraft, a datapad in one hand and slightly tapping one foot. Jack couldn't help but smile as Max brought the truck to a stop in front of her. That habit annoyed him to no end, but somehow it made her all the more endearing to him. "Hi, sweetie, sorry to keep you waiting," Jack said as the men got out of the truck.

Max pretended not to notice as Nora shot Jack a look. While their relationship was no secret, Nora didn't like Jack being so familiar with her while on duty. Jack caught the look and said, "Sorry, Colonel Sweetie ... sir."

Nora rolled her eyes and turned to Max. "Max, how do you put up with him?"

Max just shrugged. "I'm just used to him."

Jack looked around and noticed that the only other people around were a couple of technicians and the flight crew already aboard The Samaritan. "Are you all ready to go?"

"Yes, Jack, we've been ready for a while," she said as she turned and walked towards the craft.

"I'm sorry, traffic's all screwed up because of the match today," Jack protested. He turned to Max and said, "You don't want to come along and take some the heat off of me, do you?"

Max laughed. "Where are you going?"

"K Troop found the wreck of The Spirit of St. Louis."

"The what?"

"Come on," Jack said, "I'll tell you the story." Jack and Max walked to the Orca, and Jack poked his head inside the hatch. "Nora, is there an extra seat for Max?"

"Sure," Nora replied as she strapped herself into her seat.

"Thanks," Jack said as he and Max he climbed though the hatch. Max tossed the keys to the Antelope to one of the technicians and climbed in after him. The two men strapped themselves into seats across from Nora as the Orca was prepared for takeoff.

Moments later, the aircraft's engines came to full thrust and it lifted smoothly into the air. After gaining some altitude, The Samaritan banked slightly as it turned and accelerated away from the airport. Inside, Nora, Jack and Max put on intercom headsets so they could communicate over the din of the engines.

"The Spirit of St. Louis," Jack said to Max, "was the lead plane in the first air assault against the Earth base at Port Arthur. It was a Buzzard heavy bomber flown by a crack crew, the best in the Northern Guard. NorGuard Intelligence, though, dropped the ball and vastly underestimated the strength of the Earth antiaircraft defenses."

"It's so unlike them to screw up," Max remarked.

"Don't I know it," Jack replied with a smirk. "Anyway, several bombers were shot out of the sky or aborted and went home, but the crew of the Spirit led the rest of the planes in and completed the mission. On the way back, though, they got separated from the rest of the group and disappeared. No one's seen the plane or the crew since - until today."

"That's why we're taking The Samaritan here," Nora joined in. "If we can find the flight data recorders, we can use the equipment on board to read them and start looking for the crew. Did your men find anything?" she asked Jack.

"I don't know," Jack shrugged, "I just heard them say they found the cockpit and that there were no seats inside."

"Well, if they ejected, the recorders will have recorded where they left the plane. That'll give us something to go on," said Nora.

With nothing more to say, Jack took off his headset, and Max and Nora followed suit. Max closed his eyes and tried to make himself comfortable for the trip, while Jack and Nora sat and smiled at each other. Jack realized just how long it had been since they were together - and wondered how soon they could do something about that....

Continue to Part Four

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