SEP-013 Prologue, Pt. 1

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It took forever and a lot of negotiation . . . but finally the writer's strike has been lifted. I happily give you all:

SEP-013 Prologue, Pt. 1

T78, Liberty City Municipal Airport
Liberty City, Texas.
Saturday, 24 June 2023


"Hiya Jim," Jamie Cunningham chirped with a wave as she got out of her car at his approach. "You wanted to meet here?"

"Yeah," James Ahern said as he scrubbed a line of sweat from his forehead. "I've been meaning to find an excuse to come out here. I finally got some free time and wanted to see this flying club you and the boys organized."

"Well, it's not much but it gives us something to do," Jamie shrugged. "Come on in and I'll show you around."

They crossed the small parking lot, past the security gate, and walked south along the apron until they reached one of two large hangars edging out the corner of the property.

"Somebody owns the larger hangar over there," Jamie pointed, "it's some sort of corporate outfit in there. A couple people who make up another flying club share this hangar with us."

"I see. Pretty standard faire, right?" Ahern mused.

"Oh, we've got some money invested in all of this, but we manage to keep on top of things," Jamie explained. "Let's see. We've got an Archer in there . . . Brad Wade's been building up a lot of VFR time in that one. We've got a Commander in there too; Charlie, Joe and Anthony usually fight over that one. We've also got a Mooney in there, too."

"Brian told me you bought a Bonanza last year?" Ahern asked.

"That's right," Jamie nodded as they reached the service door of the club hangar. "I see he can't keep his mouth shut."

"Has he ever?" Ahern intoned glibly. Jamie laughed.

"Price one pays for essentially living with him, I guess . . . at least he's got connections up the wazoo."

"Does he now?" Ahern grinned at that. He had heard all about the media frenzy surrounding SEP-010 -- the tenth mission of the Space Exploration Program and NASA's first manned mission to the moon since the end of the Apollo era. He had also been one of the many who worked tirelessly with Mission Control and the other astronauts trying to get Enterprise, Constitution's sister ship up and running at Edwards in time to help draw a successful conclusion to the mission.

There had been a lot of firsts in that mission -- the first time a multinational crew (American, British representing the European Space Agency, and Russian representing Roscosmos) had visited, landed on, and walked on the moon. The first time a second spacecraft had been launched to assist the primary flying spacecraft. The first repair of a damaged spacecraft in space, that anyone could care to remember.

And, he remembered with both a sense of awe and horror, the first time in space that a Pilot had started the mission in one position, and ended the same mission in what had to have been charitably called a field promotion due to crew illness.

"Yup . . . he arranged for me to fly out with him and his broker to Montana where we had our first look at the aircraft, then we did the pre-buy and all the usual stuff before it was transferred into my hands. Do you want to see it?"

"I can already see you're proud of her," Ahern said with another grin. "Why not?"

Jamie smiled at him. "Right this way."

* * *​

"So this is yours!" Ahern exclaimed. "Brian didn't tell me it was a vee-tail." He stared in wonder at the aircraft in front of him. It was certainly sleek, he noted. The color was overall white with sky-blue and black accent lines wrapping around the length of the fuselage. The trademark tail stuck smartly out the aft empennage at the trademark unique angle adorned with a tasteful mixture of black and sky-blue.

"You know the distinction?"

"Yeah," Ahern replied. "Has some form of notoriety if I recall correctly."

"Yeah, she was a lucky find," Jamie mused from the other side of the aircraft. Her voice barely audible, he noted her head was fairly deep into the baggage compartment in the aft fuselage near the wing roots. "Estate sale . . . She was a mountain aircraft . . . she's got the five-fifty engine which means I can cruise her right up to the edge of class alpha if I wanted to."

"You carry oxygen on board?"

"Of course," Jamie replied sarcastically as she stuck her head up above the empennage in front of her. "I've got disposable cannulas on board and I've got full face masks if we need them. This thing literally has more endurance than either oxygen or my bladder if I fly her efficiently."

"Sounds like you made a good hobby for yourself," Ahern observed.

"Aviation is one of my passions," Jamie said as she stooped underneath the wing in front of her. She went to work applying a fuel strainer to the starboard-side tank drain and she cleared her throat. "Probably my biggest passion, really," She continued. "I've always loved flying and now I've got the opportunity to share it with somebody."

"You've flown some people around already?"

"Not just Brian or any of our regular pilots," Jamie said as she stood up to examine the strainer. "I took my dad and sister to Yellowstone last summer. It was . . . it was good, really."

"How is your old man doing?"

"Well, he's recovered pretty well from his heart attack last year," Jamie said softly as she opened up the fuel cap on the wing. She poured the contents of the strainer cup into the opening and sealed the fuel cap up. Crossing around the front of the aircraft she wordlessly crouched under the port-side wing Ahern was facing and applied the strainer to the sump.

"You still on the outs with them?"

"No," Jamie shook her head. "When dad had his heart attack, a lot of the crap that happened sorta vanished."

"You said something about that in the past," Ahern observed.

"Yeah. I thought my sister was jealous of me going to college or something . . . before last summer, it had been the end of high school for me since we'd said word one to each other. With everything that happened at that time . . . turns out they were just giving me space so that I could become who I could be. Go figure."

"How are you doing?" He pressed.

"I'm fine," Jamie said shortly as she jerked the strainer upwards. "It was good to see my family again and I'm glad I got the chance to show them a part of our world they wouldn't normally have had the chance to see. You want to hit the door over there? There's a button cluster on the wall by the service door."

"You got it, Jamie."

* * *​

"Thanks for your help," Jamie said as she unscrewed the tow bar from the nose wheel. The aircraft, now out of the hangar, shone brilliantly in the sunlight, and Ahern smiled at her.

"How much fuel do you have on board?"

Jamie cocked her head questioningly at that. "I always keep it full; why?"

"I do, actually, have a destination in mind which is why I asked you here."

"I thought you were oddly interested in my plane," Jamie said as her eyebrows cinched together. "If you wanted to do a conference or a brainstorm, there's safer and less expensive ways to do it."

"I'm not talking about doing a conference with you," Ahern said with a head-shake, "and we both know if I wanted to do flight training we'd both be in a jet making holes in the sky."

"That's true," Jamie observed. "But why the act? And what are you going on about?"

"Wouldn't it be nice to kick back and take a trip and just enjoy it for once? Not just mission commander and pilot, but colleagues doing something constructive together?" Ahern soothed. She gave him a deadpan look.

"You're right," He sighed. "I do have an ulterior motive for meeting you out here and what I have in mind will get your attention once we get there."

"I knew it," Jamie half-grated. "Why do people have to have an ulterior motive to speak with me?"

"I'll cover the gas to get us out there and back; don't worry about it. It's my treat."

"Ahh, I'm not exactly worried about that," Jamie murmured. "This just seems a little unusual, that's all. You're soliciting me for a ride to parts unknown and everything you've said has got all the hallmarks of Brian Adkinson himself. Did he put you up to this?"

"No, he did not," Ahern said flatly. "Besides, travelling like this is no more unusual than travelling with falsified identification."

"You got me there," Jamie conceded. "It would be nice to go somewhere without having to duck the cameras. Where do you want me to take you?"

"Central Florida."

Jamie's eyes widened and her jaw dropped in mock excitement. "We're going to Disneyworld?"

"No," Ahern said with a grin. "Try Tango India X-ray."

Jamie's mouth snapped shut. Any sign of feigned surprise vanished as a stormy look invaded her eyes.

"Titusville?"

"C'mon, Jamie," Ahern growled. "You haven't been to Florida since SEP Ten. You've spent most of your time here in Texas and California doing public appearances and training the newbies. Things have changed on the east coast and I want you to see that for yourself. I'll pause a moment to let that sink in."

Jamie stood pensively for a moment, stopping only to smack a mosquito against her ear.

"Brian did put you up to this."

"Wrong," Ahern said flatly.

"Then who did?"

"Me. I feel that we're at the point where we can do some dress rehearsals on the actual equipment we're going to be flying," Ahern said. "And that starts today. Our ship awaits our reunion and it looks like it wants to go. What do you say?"

"I think," Jamie took a deep breath, "you wouldn't put yourself out like this if you didn't think I could still do this."

"Damn straight," Ahern nodded.

"I also . . . think that I'd better get a weather briefing and file a clearance. Can you wait a few minutes?"

"I've been waiting five years for this, Jamie," Ahern said with a grin. "What's a few more minutes?"

"You've been waiting five years for me to give you an airplane ride?"

"You know what I mean, Jamie . . ."

"Indeed. I'll be right back," Jamie said with a sudden grin.

* * *​
 
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