‘Now, let’s go from the start.’ The officer is lit by red and blue flashes.
‘Well, we were just out for dinner and decided to go for a walk afterwards.’
‘Where were you eating?’
‘This café up the road, Italian.’
‘About what time did you leave?’
‘Seventeen-past-eight.’ Their looks tell me that my time was too specific. ‘I checked my messages when we got up from the table. It was eight-seventeen.’
‘Okay then. How long did you walk for?’
‘Um, I don’t know.’ Jess looks like she may pass out. Dame sits her on the grass.
‘We walked for about twenty minutes down the beach, then started back up. The breeze was picking up and it was chilly.’
I glance up as Dame continues the story. The lights. The stars. The wind.
‘Here.’ I slip out of my jacket and drape it over Carlie’s shoulders. She is still hugging herself so I wrap my arms around her.
‘Anything to be the hero, huh?’
‘Of course. Why do you think I suggested we walk the beach this late?’
‘Dame suggested we walk this late.’
‘But I’m participating.’
‘And Jess wanted to walk along the beach.’
‘Okay, fine. Ruin my romantic gesture.’
‘It wasn’t yours.’
‘Why don’t you just let me cheat my way through this one?’
‘Nah-ah, you’ve got to earn it.’
‘Fine. Do I at least win points for the jacket?’
‘More than you just lost for lying about the late-night beach walk.’
The radio crackled as I released the button. Over my right wing I could see her fighter craft, wings gleaming under the light of the stars around us. I had spent so long trying to land a mission as her wingman, and here we were. Her ship was a class lighter, faster than mine but less firepower. Both good craft for scouting runs.
Over my left wing I see two more ships, both like mine, but one sporting different fire from the engines. It was thinner, and unlike our blue flames this one had a purple glow, a different fuel source. The radio crackled again.
‘Hey, lovebirds, this is the designated border!’ Jess is calling from where her and Dame are standing, about twenty metres away. The breeze is picking up and muffling her voice. ‘Let’s head back.’
‘Sure thing.’ I walk with my arms still around Carlie, her head on my shoulder. ‘That can’t be comfortable.’
‘You’d be surprised.’ She looks up at me and I brush lips on hers.
We head towards the carpark, glancing at the stars, talking about the night, and enjoying each other’s companies. I’d never really been in serious relationships before. But I know in this moment that I plan to have these people around for a long time, especially Carlie. I had said this to Angela yesterday and she had a brief moment of excitement followed by an hour of calling me a sap. For her that’s approval. Dame and Jess seem so natural together. I suppose being friends for so long beforehand can be helpful.
As we step onto the grass I see the car, however just before it I notice a man leaning against a tree. His hands are in his jacket pockets.
A chill runs up my spine. I look around as casually as possible and notice another person walking behind us. His hands are also in his jacket pockets.
I can feel my heartrate increase as I thumb the radio. ‘Guys, unidentified, eleven o’clock. Another at six.’
‘This area should be clear.’ Dame is worried. ‘The salvage crews picked it clean.’
‘We’re here.’ I can hear Carlie flicking switches as she spoke.
‘Maybe they’re after us?’ Jess says what we are all thinking.
Dame takes charge, ‘Gamma spread. Go!’
As we reposition the two unidentified ships charge. Plasma fire streaks around us. Carlie and Jess both angle down, looping wide. Dame banks up and I charge the oncoming ship, rolling out just before impact. It was close and sensors beep to tell me that the one from behind is following me.
‘Guys, take the other one down, I’ll keep this guy busy.’
A few flips and twists and they’re having trouble keeping up with me. I get a quick view of the other three struggling with the guy who was behind us. Dame is holding one of his arms while Jess and Carlie wrestle the other. Meanwhile my opponent is still trying to hit me with wild haymakers.
Thud, grunt, Dame has landed a gut punch. The guy in front of me reaches into his jacket and pulls out a knife. I am frozen, unsure what to do. Carlie yells. Everything is slowing down as my brain overworks. He lifts the knife up and stabs at me.
No thought, just reaction. I dive out of the way, tumbling across the ground. The man has rounded on me fast. Then I see a tree branch nearby. I reach out and flip the switch.
‘Jordan look out!’ Carlie and Dame are now both heading towards me. With my opponent in chase I kill the engines, redirecting with just the navigation thrusters. As I complete half a spin I am facing them, and I fire. The shot is a direct hit, disabling but not destroying. I finish the spin and re-engage the engines.
Dame comes in to net the ship. ‘You okay, Jordan?’
‘Yeah. Minimal damage. No trouble to get back to the station.’
‘Jess, call it in.’
‘Already on it.’
‘Carlie, damage report?’
‘Bit shaken, nothing serious.’
Dame is tying my attacker’s hands with his own belt, while Jess is pinning the other to the ground. Carlie walks over and hugs me, I hug her back. Over her shoulder I see Jess and Dame share a look that says if they weren’t holding down our attackers, they’d be hugging too.
Carlie knocks on my door. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Just the report for the commander.’
‘Can it wait?’
I turn to face her. Her eyes are watery. ‘Of course it can.’
I stand and hug her.
‘When that guy went for you, I was scared.’
‘So was I.’
‘Why did you take him alone?’
‘I don’t know. I’ve never been in a dogfight like that before. I guess I just didn’t want him going after you.’
‘You’re my hero. Now promise me something?’
‘You’ll never do that again?’
In that moment I realised that Carlie planned on having us around for a long time, especially me.