Continued from Part Three
Miguel climbed out of the cockpit of his Hunter, took a deep breath of fresh air, and tried to wring out the bloody rag in his hands.
Since word had come down from his troop commander that Colonel Sanlander was coming to inspect the crash site he had stumbled upon, Miguel had been trying to clean up the mess in his Gear's cockpit that had been left after his encounter with that dawg. It amazed Miguel just how well blood could seep into every conceivable nook and cranny in the cockpit. Complicating matters was that he could only work for a few minutes at a time, as the blood and the great heat that had built up in the Hunter's cockpit had combined to create an unholy stench.
Before long, though, he heard the shriek of turbofan engines, and he threw the rag to the ground in defeat. He climbed down from his Gear and joined Harris, the pilot of King Four, and the rest of his section as the garishly painted search-and-rescue Orca set down. His uniform was as soaked with dawg blood as his Gear's cockpit, though, so he stood a couple of meters from the rest of his section so the stench wouldn't overwhelm them.
As its engines shut down and the dust settled, Jack Sanlander and Max Castiyo climbed out of the side hatch of The Samaritan. The men winced as they were hit by the early afternoon heat. The main hatch of the Orca opened, and Nora Richardson hopped out and began directing the craft's crew to set up their investigation equipment. Max turned to Jack and said, "I'll see if they need any help."
"Okay," Jack said as he turned to where the section was standing. As he approached them, he saw Miguel and gave him a puzzled look, but said nothing as the section leader stepped forward. "Good morning, sir," he said to Jack, "I hope you had a pleasant flight."
"Yes I did, thank you," Jack said as he returned the salute. "You're Sergeant Hawkins, in King Six?"
"Yes, sir," Hawkins replied.
"Have you completed the site survey yet?"
"Nearly, sir," Hawkins replied. "King Eight and Nine are completing their sweeps."
"Very well. Pass along the data to Colonel Richardson and her crew. I understand King Three and Four first found the wreckage?"
"Yes sir, Harris and Ortiz there," Hawkins said, motioning to Miguel.
Jack raised an eyebrow before saying, "I see. Very well, then, carry on."
"Yes sir," Hawkins replied as he saluted.
As Jack returned the salute, he said, "After the Orca's crew has all your survey data, why don't you ask them if they can get the Buccaneers game on the radio? It should have started by now."
"Thank you, sir," Hawkins said with a smile as he waved the rest of the section over to the Orca. As they approached, Jack called out to Miguel, "A moment, please, Mister Ortiz."
Miguel tried to keep from wincing as he stood at attention. Jack walked over to Miguel, but stopped two meters from him as he caught a whiff of Miguel's uniform. Blinking to keep his eyes from watering, he just said, "Walk with me, Mister Ortiz."
"Yes, sir," Miguel answered sheepishly.
The two men walked several meters away from the group, then Jack stopped and turned to Miguel. "Mister Ortiz, your father and I are old friends, and I've known you for cycles, so let's take off our rank for a minute, shall we?"
"Very well, sir," Miguel replied.
"Miguel, you smell like one of your father's slaughterhouses."
"Thank you, sir," Miguel chuckled, "that's more kind than I would have put it."
"What the hell happened to you?"
Miguel sighed. "Well, sir, the air conditioned in my Hunter blinked out, so I was running with the hatch open."
"You're not supposed to do that," Jack admonished him.
"Oh, I won't ever again, sir, believe me," said Miguel, "It was just so damn hot in there .... Anyway, I came over the edge of the ravine where we first found the wreck, and the biggest dawg I've ever seen literally jumped onto my Gear and tried to have me for lunch."
"Oof. So what did you do," Jack asked, "shoot it with your sidearm?"
"Yes, sir. He splattered me and the cockpit pretty well."
"Oh yes, he did indeed," said Jack with a smile. "All right, ask the guys in the Orca if they have a spare suit you can wear."
"Yes, sir, thank you, sir," Miguel said and walked back to the Orca. Jack just shook his head and followed him.
As he approached the Orca, Jack heard a cheer from the rest of the section, who were gathered at the rear of the craft. Jack peeked over their heads and saw the video screen Max and everybody else was staring at. Jack turned to Max and asked, "Hey, did you get the Hermes 72 feed?"
"Yeah," Max replied, "and we just scored. It's only the seventh minute!"
"Ah, damn, this will be a fun game," Jack said. He chuckled as he turned and walked over to where Nora and her crew had set up their equipment. "You guys okay?"
"We're fine," Nora replied, "it's just going to take a little while to collate the data. I've got a couple of guys at the nose wreckage you found, and they'll going to pull the flight data recorders. Once we analyze those, we can figure out where the crew ejected, and begin our search from there."
"Good," Jack said. "Well, since we've got to wait anyway, do you want to watch the game with us?"
"No," Nora said with a smile, "but I am in the mood for a walk."
Jack smiled back. "Even better."
The Orca's crew worked for a long while, analyzing the survey data and the flight data recorders from the Spirit of St. Louis while the Crusaders alternated between cries of joy and anguish as the soccer game unfolded. Finally, a technician called Jack and Nora back to the Orca. As they approached, Nora asked, "What have you got?"
"It's a miracle they made it this far north," the technician replied as she called up a series of diagnostic displays on a terminal. "As they commenced the raid, they suffered major damage to two engines and several fuel cells, and all of their navigation and communications equipment was damaged or destroyed. They must have made it back here by dead reckoning alone."
"Any idea how they got separated from their group?" Nora asked.
"Not yet, no," the technician replied.
"How about what happened to the crew?" Jack asked.
"That's why I called you over here," the technician answered. "We just cracked the security codes on the main flight computer, and we've found the frequencies for the crew's locator beacons."
"Great," Nora said. "Feed them to The Samaritan's transmitter and start broadcasting."
"Yes, ma'am," the technician replied as she entered the instructions into the terminal. Immediately, three blips appeared on a directional display. Two were several kilometers away, but one was ...
"Is this right?" the technician wondered.
"What?" Jack asked.
"This one beacon is registering at less than two hundred meters!"
"Where?!?" said Jack and Nora in unison.
"Bearing two-eight-zero," the technician said. As Jack and Nora both took off at a run across the savannah, they could hear the Crusaders' excited cries build as the soccer game entered its final minutes. When Jack felt they were at the right distance, they slowed to a walk and searched intently through the savannah for the beacon. Just as Jack was going to call for a position fix, his boot banged alongside a metallic object.
"Hey, over here," Jack said as he knelt down and started to clear away brush and dirt. Nora helped him, and after a few minutes they had cleared enough away to figure out what Jack had found.
It was an ejection seat that had landed on its side.
"This is where that locator beacon's signal was coming from, though, right?" Jack said.
"I think so, but the beacon would have been attached to the crewman's flight suit," Nora replied.
Jack dug next to the seat, then stopped suddenly. Turning to Nora, he said grimly, "It still is."
Next to the seat lay the skeleton of its occupant.
Jack sat back down on the ground as Nora sighed. "Poor guy," she said. "He should have been thrown clear of the seat."
Jack smiled at her sadly. "Well, at least we can take him home."
And from across the savannah, they heard a triumphant roar of the rest of the Crusaders.
"And in other news, the Northern Guard announced today that the remains of three heroes of the War of the Alliance are on their way home. The wreckage and the bodies of the crew of The Spirit of St. Louis, the bomber that led the first raid against Port Arthur during the war, was found last week near the city-state of Coronado. The Coronado Defense Forces, which have been investigating the loss of the Spirit, officially turned over the remains of Squadron Commander Ian Corr, Flight Lieutenant Andrea Steele and Flight Lieutenant Hiroshi Matsuo over to Northern Guard officials yesterday. A Guard spokesperson said the crew were being recommended for internment in the Valeria League Cemetery.
And also from Coronado, there's a lot of excitement as the Buccaneers prepare for tomorrow's semifinals match against the Red Sands Renegades. Sports is next."